VIDEO: Is ‘Floating Solar’ The World’s Biggest PV Trend?

Dr. Børge Bjørneklett, chief technology officer at Ocean Sun, talks to Melissa Hancock about why floating solar is set to be the ‘next big thing’ in solar energy    

With half the world’s population living in coastal areas, and more than three quarters of the world’s megacities located by the sea, it’s not too difficult to see why Ocean Sun believes that the floating solar industry – also referred to as the floating photovoltaic (FPV) industry – has huge potential.

“I really think that it has a great future,” Bjørneklett tells Impact4All in an exclusive video interview. “It opens up new surfaces for photovoltaics and the acreage necessary for solar is fairly large which often means those areas cannot be found very close to the consumers – you have to go further and further away from the large cities and then the cost of transmission of the electricity from these plants to the consumer becomes prohibitively expensive. So I really think floating solar could be the next big thing.”

Developers have now designed solar systems that can float on oceans, reservoirs, channels, lakes and ponds, with around 1GW of capacity having already been installed around the world to date.

Developers have now designed solar systems that can float on oceans, reservoirs, channels, lakes and ponds, with around 1GW of capacity having already been installed around the world to date.

Ocean Sun was co-founded by Børge Bjørneklett and Øyvind Rohn in 2016. Since April 2017, the company has successfully tested an offshore floating solar installation near Bergen, Norway and it is also currently running a pilot system outside Singapore.

“We are running two pilot systems – one in a Norwegian fjord and one system in the sea outside Singapore,” says Bjørneklett. “We are testing these solutions in different sea conditions and working with naval architects and doing trials in laboratories.

“So the next steps are to improve and optimise this design for different sea states – either on oceans, lakes or reservoirs. And our strategy is to continue our work and to build larger demonstration units – up to 1MW units that we would like to standardise our product on.”

Ocean Sun’s technology is based on modified silicon solar modules deployed on special floating structures. Increased energy efficiency is obtained by the cells’ low operating temperatures achieved through direct heat transfer to water.

The modules are installed on very large floating structures and the hydro-elastic property of the thin polymer support membrane acts a barrier against breaking waves and saltwater intrusion. All Ocean Sun’s system components are based on environmentally friendly materials with a minimal CO2 footprint.

“This is a very early phase for floating solar and there are very many different technologies emerging. Some of the systems rely on their buoyancy in individual pontoons or buoys where you have single modules based on each of them, while other systems have platforms with multiple panels mounted onto them,” says Bjørneklett.

“While most of the systems are air-cooled, our system has a direct conductivity to the water so we can reduce module temperatures even further and thereby yield more energy out of the modules.”

Does this make Ocean Sun’s technology more sophisticated in that regard?

“When it comes to that particular area of the cell temperatures, I dare say so,” observes Bjørneklett. “Because direct cooling by conductivity is far more efficient than air convection cooling because the heat dissipation is more effective when it comes into contact with this membrane which again rests on the water surface. And the modules essentially maintain the same or a slightly higher temperature than the body of water itself.”

With its patented technology, Ocean Sun is well positioned to take a pioneering role in the burgeoning floating solar market – a market that Bjørneklett believes will be one of the key trends that will shape the global solar energy industry over the next three to five years.

“It is expanding rapidly – the market is almost exploding now with leads all across the globe,” he says. “There is a strong demand for different systems that can deliver floating solar power. I think it is perhaps one of the or probably the most important trend in PV today.”

 

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