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Floating Solar Concept Maximizes Space and Manages Harsh Conditions

floating solar platform
Concept is for a floating solar panel that could be positioned in conjunction with wind farms and withstand harsh offshore conditions (Seavolt)

Published Mar 8, 2023 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

Combining experience in solar with environmental and offshore expertise, a new concept is preparing for its first test creating a floating solar power platform that can take advantage of available offshore space and withstand harsh offshore environments. The experts point to the growing interest from the photovoltaic technology community to transition to offshore installations to address the lack of space for solar power installations while government authorities look to multi-use applications to better utilize the space provided for offshore wind farms.

Belgian partners Jan De Nul, Tractebel, and DEME, together with Ghent University, began working on a concept four years ago for a marine floater for solar power. Most of the applications for offshore solar power installations are positioned close to or on the surface, while the Seavolt system is more akin to floating offshore wind turbines, raised above the surface.

According to the partners, the new technology can withstand harsh offshore conditions while creating large surfaces for solar power that are protected from the waves. They point to the relatively short time required to develop the installations and the modular design that can adapt to different locations. 

“In the same way that we have seen wind technology moving from land to the sea, we are seeing the extension of the whole energy system towards offshore locations,” said Philippe Van Troeye, CEO of Tractebel. “Along with offshore green fuel production, offshore energy islands, interconnectors, and potential solutions for energy storage, we believe offshore floating PV has an important role to play in the acceleration of the energy transition.”

They point to the fact that installed capacity for solar power reached the milestone of 1 TW in 2022 as more locations look for different sources of renewable energy. The PV industry however is encountering limitations due to land scarcity. Most of the floating solar technologies have been limited to near-shore or inland applications but by combining solar with a floating platform they believe the technology can overcome these limitations.

Recently, the Dutch called for applications of multi-use demonstrations in one of their latest rounds of offshore wind farm licensing. Oranje Wind Power II, a subsidiary of Germany’s RWE, won the tender and is partnering with a company called SolarDuck will develop the first hybrid, offshore floating solar installation at a commercial scale. They are building a 5MW demonstrator for the integrated energy storage solution in the Hollandse Kust (west) Wind Farm Zone which is expected to become operational in 2026. 

“We are thrilled to launch the Seavolt technology, which represents the culmination of years of hard work and innovation in offshore PV technology together with our partners,” said Philippe Hutse, Offshore Director at Jan De Nul Group. “As the offshore wind industry continues to grow, we believe that it has the potential to play a crucial role in optimizing the use of space on the sea by complementing offshore wind farms."

The partners report that the initial research explored the effects on the marine ecosystem, the integration of aquaculture, and a financial assessment. Following laboratory testing, the partners are currently developing an offshore test installation which will be launched off the Belgian coast in the summer of 2023.