VIDEO: Here’s Why Floating Solar Could Help Solve Land Scarcity Issues

Allard van Hoeken, founder and CEO, Oceans of Energy, talks to Melissa Hancock about how offshore floating solar can solve the land scarcity issues facing renewable energy 

For someone who has been working in the offshore floating solar industry for over 20 years, Allard van Hoeken must feel like the growing surge in demand for offshore solar has been a long time coming.

Prior to founding Netherlands-based Oceans of Energy in May 2016, Van Hoeken was responsible for the successful development of BlueTEC – the world’s first grid-connected floating tidal energy system which was installed in April 2015.

Oceans of Energy specialises in designing and developing floating PV platforms for solar power generation at sea; their floating platforms are capable of withstanding rough sea conditions for more than 20 years.

 

“Our immediate focus is to bring this to islands and remote locations where there’s a lot of need for solar energy but they don’t have the space for solar panels,” van Hoeken told Impact4All in an exclusive video interview.

“As a future step, we see the same technology applied between offshore wind farms like the North Sea wind farms, the UK, the Netherlands – there’s a lot of space in between the wind turbines and we can use that space with solar panels. And we get five times more energy per square kilometre per year if you combine those two.”

Van Hoeken said the key markets that have installed floating solar systems to date are China, Japan, the UK and France among others.

“And the most exciting projects for me are the ones in salt water – there are some small projects in the Maldives with salt water systems. This brings the energy to the locations where it is mostly needed because otherwise there’s diesel generation and it’s the same technology application as Oceans of Energy is going for.”

While floating solar has not yet prompted a surge of investments, Van Hoeken believes that offshore floating PV has the potential to be the next big trend in the solar energy industry – mainly because the key challenge facing the industry is the amount of space that solar energy needs.

While floating solar has not yet prompted a surge of investments, Van Hoeken believes that offshore floating PV has the potential to be the next big trend in the solar energy industry – mainly because the key challenge facing the industry is the amount of space that solar energy needs.

And with half of the world’s population living in coastal regions where there is a scarcity of land, that has proven to be a key restriction in the roll-out of solar.

“In order for this to happen, what needs to happen right now is offshore pilots being set up in coastal regions,” said van Hoeken.

“So the World Bank and the IDB can play a really important role in getting this technology established and then the scale will be enormous.”

In addition to resolving land scarcity issues, van Hoeken highlights how floating solar can have a positive impact on the environment.

“When we started to develop offshore floating solar, the first question that came into our mind was what will be the impact on the sea life if we cover a part of the sea with solar panels. And we’ve been studying this now for a couple of years…and what we’re seeing is that the solar panels attract a lot of sea life,” he said.

“There is some impact of the sunlight that’s being withheld, but actually we only need a very small percentage of the surface for a huge amount of energy, so the negative impact is quite minimal, especially if you go to the sea where the water is flowing underneath the platforms all the time so there’s no column of water that has shade all the time.”

Oceans of Energy employs qualified marine ecologists in its research team that continuously monitor and assess the environmental impact of its offshore floating solar systems so that it leaves behind no negative footprint. The company also supports other institutions with anchoring technology and environmental impact studies.

Looking ahead, van Hoeken said he believes that one of the key trends that is going to shape the global solar energy industry over the next three to five years is that there is going to be an increase in scale.

“And for this, offshore solar is going to play a very important role. This is really where the largest possible scale is going to be available. And I see in conjunction with that that onshore available land is going to be more a useful combination of PV plus temperature so like rooftops – if you combine the PV with hot water temperature, you have it right at the place you need it which is on top of households and industries. So that space is best used for PV plus temperature utilisation of solar energy. And only electricity will be done from the sea.”

In February this year, Oceans of Energy became one of a consortium of six companies and research institutes to start work on the design, construction and operation of the world’s first offshore floating solar farm. It is scheduled to be in operation before 2020 off the coast of Scheveningen in the Netherlands.

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