Restrictions in land use and the cooling ability of water have given rise to the development of floating solar energy (FPV). Recently, Statkraft, in cooperation with Norwegian supplier Ocean Sun, has commercial operations at the first unit of its floating solar project in Albania.
^ Statkraft has placed 160 equal additional panels on land to compare and document the cooling effect on the floating panels
Article By Lucien Joppen
With a total investment of EUR 2m, the project is situated at the Banja reservoir, where Statkraft is operating its 72-megawatt Banja hydropower plant. The first unit, containing 1536 solar panels, has an installed capacity of 0.5 MWp and covers almost 4,000 square meters.
Statkraft has placed 160 equal additional panels on land to compare and document the cooling effect on the floating panels.
The project is expected to continue its second implementation phase during the second half of 2021, whereby additional three floating units will be installed, with a combined additional capacity of 1.5 MWp.
“This is a great milestone in an innovative floating solar project, and it is exciting to see the plant come alive and provide additional renewable energy production in Albania. We are looking forward to the concrete results of this demonstration project to assess the potential for further expansion of this exciting technology”, says CEO of Statkraft, Christian Rynning-Tønnesen.
As mentioned in the boxtext Floating PV, FPV involves installing solar panels on floating structures on a body of water, such as a lake, fjord or ocean, or in a hydropower reservoir. Each unit consists of a floating ring -in Banja 4,000 sqm – and a thin membrane.
Floating solar – or Floating PV – is a relatively new form of large-scale solar power generation. The main driver behind this modus is the scarcity of suitable and available land for solar parks. Water areas such as irrigation basins, dredging depots, sand extraction locations and basins near water treatment plants can already be used as locations.
In the longer term, solar parks at sea will also become technically and economically feasible, for example, in combination with offshore wind farms.
There are several benefits from FPV: the combination with other renewable energy forms (see Statkraft, Albania), the proximity to densely populated areas (energy demand), larger-scale projects (relatively low investment per m2), a projected higher electricity yield (compared to land based solar) due to a higher cooling ability and higher irradiation above water.
Combined with the cooling of the panels from the water below, the membrane and the large area makes this concept unique, according to Statkraft.
Ocean Sun has developed the technology behind the unit. Although the membrane is only a few millimetres thick, it withstands the panels’ weight and personnel carrying out installation or maintenance tasks.
Ocean Sun’s patented technology is based on a thin polymer that is not achievable with other floating PV systems, the company claims. The benefits are: “an overall lowest material usage of any floating PV system enabling the lowest overall LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Energy), simple, safe, and quick installation, increased efficiency from direct water cooling, proven robustness in high wind, waves, and strong currents, a significant reduction in material logistics costs, and reduced water evaporation.
Three other units in the planning
Depending on how the first unit will perform, Statkraft will proceed with the second phase of the project, adding three floating 0.5 MWp units later this year, bringing the total solar capacity on the Banja reservoir to 2 MWp.
Despite its high potential as an eco-friendly technology for generating electricity, solar energy only covers a small percentage of the global demand.
One of the challenges is sustainable use of land resources as there are also other demands (agriculture, population growth, ecosystems).
Floating PV (FPV) plants on water bodies such as a dam, reservoir, canal, etc. are increasingly developed worldwide as an alternative choice. FPV comes in many ‘flavours’, usually in combination with other renewable energy forms.
Hybrid technologies: FPV + hydro systems, FPV + pumped hydro, FPV + wave energy converter, FPV + solar tree, FPV + tracking, FPV + conventional power, FPV + hydrogen. According to recent research *, solar input and hydro energy were among the most promising methods that could be potentially used for efficient power generation.
“Testing new technology for floating solar power panels fits very well with Statkraft’s strategy to grow the company’s renewable energy generation from hydro, wind and solar”, the company states. “If the techno logy is proven successful and the potential for cost-competitiveness can be achieved, a wider application of floating solar may take place also in other Statkraft locations.”
“The project in Albania represents the first sizable installation in the south of Europe and a milestone in our pursuit of clean and affordable energy from floating solar power globally”, says CEO of Ocean Sun, Børge Bjørneklett.
Statkraft has been present in Albania since 2007. With a population of about 3 million people, the country has one of the highest shares of renewable energy in Southeast Europe. Hydropower accounts for the largest share of Albania’s electricity generation, re presenting around 95 per cent of its installed power capacity. The country also has some of Europe’s highest number of sunshine hours per year, making it suitable for the combination of solar and hydro-energy.
Challenges and concerns
For floating solar to make it big, there are still challenges and environmental concerns to be addressed. Some of the technical challenges are: wave and wind resistance of the floating solar parks, the relationship between design, logistics and maintenance, minimizing maintenance work, lifetime and reliability of the system and its components in humid and corrosive conditions and design aspects relating to revenues and costs.
Furthermore, the impact on the environment, flora, fauna and humans, still needs to be evaluated, mainly because the technology is still ‘fresh’. The German company BayWar.e, together with research institutes in the Netherlands, conducted a study of one of its projects near the Dutch city of Zwolle.
• * Hybrid Floating Solar Plant Designs: A Review (Evgeny Solomin, Evgeny Sirotkin, Erdem Cuce, Shanmuga Priya Selvanathan and Sudhakar Kumarasamy)
Based on water samples, the first results of the environmental studies showed no adverse effects to the surrounding environ ment, the company informed. According to BayWar.e, “initial results are positive, and it is great to see our system integrating itself so well into the lake’s environment.”
However, as the study was conducted in 2020/2021, mid-to-long-term studies are nee ded to assess the environmental impact over a more extended period.
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