Can floating solar islands meet the globe's future power needs?

Jan 6, 2023 12:53 PM ET
  • Trygve Kristiansen researches on floating solar power, which are photovoltaics supported on the water. He believes that floating solar panels might play an important worldwide duty in the transition to greener modern technologies. He is a professor of marine innovation at NTNU.
Can floating solar islands meet the globe's future power needs?
Image: Kasper Pindsle,

" By covering between 5 and 10% of the world's hydropower reservoirs with floating solar, we can generate as much electricity as all hydropower does currently," he states.

Doing this would likewise limit evaporation from these reservoirs.

" Much less evaporation would certainly be a good idea in areas where water is a scarce resource," states the professor, that is also a supervisor in SFI Blues, a center for research-driven advancement focused on establishing as well as boosting floating structures for the next generation of ocean markets.

Floating photovoltaics are currently considered as a major possibility to provide clean electric power to significant cities, especially in Asia. Solar roofings are not adequate to load the need.

" Many of the biggest cities are situated by the sea, as well as floating solar will certainly have the ability to thrive there. Along with large surfaces, the sea offers an important cooling result," says Kristiansen.

Making use of ocean space

Trygve Kristiansen thinks we don't need to stop there. Floating solar could be made use of to a far greater degree than solely on hydropower reservoirs.

" If you look at the globe's expected total energy requires in 2050, we could be even more enthusiastic. We calculated that if you put solar islands on 0.17% of the globe's oceans, the power requires for the entire globe would certainly be covered," says Kristiansen.

That 0.17% of ocean space represents roughly twice the land area of Norway.

" I can additionally visualize these solar islands being charging stations for ships. They might also be made use of to generate electricity for floating manufacturing facilities that generate renewable fuels like hydrogen or methanol," he says.

Kristiansen co-au hored an article on the topic in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in 2019.

Floating solar works best where weather conditions are calmer

" The ocean is big," claims Kristiansen.

However, not all the ocean areas appropriate for the development of floating solar.

" Placing floating solar batteries in areas with the calmest weather, wind as well as wave problems possible is plainly a benefit. The Doldrums, a belt around the Earth near the equator, have little wind and also the sun shines straight down, so these locations are well located for floating solar. So are places that have swells rather than harsh seas," says Kristiansen.

Floating solar is affordable with offshore wind power.

" If you covered one square kilometer with solar panels in southern Spain, where the annual average solar radiation is 200 watts per square meter, floating solar would certainly be able to generate concerning 44 megawatts. Today's wind turbines create usually about 6 megawatts for the very same area," he claims.

Just how do solar photovoltaics float?

We haven't figured out the very best modern technology for this technique yet. Floating solar has to be inexpensive. At the same time, solar islands require to be able to tolerate some harsh seas as well as strong winds. The floating structures need to comply with the waves for it to work.

So how are the photovoltaic panels intended to stay afloat? As well as what is the best solution to link them?

Kristiansen highlights two main concepts for floating solar.

  • One option contains floating membrane layers that are connected to floating collars. The Norwegian company OceanSun has actually currently constructed a number of full-scale membrane-supported systems.
  • The 2nd principle includes smaller, inflexible modules that are adjoined in large matrices. A number of business provide different variants of this system, consisting of Equinor and Moss Maritime, that are examining a floating model off the island of Frøya.

" Other ideas are also possible, like air cushion-supported buildings and also flexible tubing connected in various configurations," Kristiansen said.

Floating solar power a fairly new principle

A variety of floating solar pilot plants have currently been constructed around the globe. They are frequently discovered on bodies of water on islands, in cities as well as in communities that do not have various other sources of power. Floating solar panels have actually been installed on a number of hydropower reservoirs in Japan and China.

"We require this power in Norway too, such as for onsite power at aquaculture centers or to give power for Norway's new power-intensive sectors, such as battery manufacturing facilities," he said.

The suggestion of increasing photovoltaic panels in floating structures on dams and various other land-based water sources as well as in the ocean is fairly new.

"Floating solar is a field of research study in its very early stages. Only in the last 2 years has it has actually begun to attract attention. The EU has revealed calls for study projects in the past year," Kristiansen claimed.

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