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Clean Power Floating Solar Islands

Published on February 5th, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


Floating Solar-Powered Labs Under Construction In Switzerland

In lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland, three solar-powered floating laboratories are to be constructed by the Swiss energy company Viteos SA and project developer Nolaris.

The laboratories are intended to act as research facilities that demonstrate the efficacy of floating concentrated solar power plants, and also whether this concept can be applied to typical PV solar panels. (For a super quick primer: concentrated solar power (CSP) plants concentrate hot sunlight onto boilers to produce steam, which is then used to drive steam turbines.)

Each of the laboratories will be 25 metres in diameter and will be equipped with 100 PV panels. Each panel will be set up back-to-back on a 45° incline. These islands will rotate 220° to track the sun so that they always achieve optimal performance.

These laboratories will also be anchored to the floor of the lake using concrete blocks, and they will be located 150 metres away from shore, near a water purification plant. The power plants will supply power to the electricity grid on land via cables using Viteous inverters. The islands are supposed to be recyclable and sustainable for 25 years.

Viteos plans to invest more than 100 million CHF ($108 million) to increase its own power output to more than 80 million kWh within 10 years, as part of its renewable energy development initiative.

The completion of the photovoltaic systems is expected by August 2013.

Source: PV Tech

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writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • Karl

    This isn’t the only company trying this–first tried on ponds in the Calf. desert ( high winds pealed them off the water –disaster.)—Problems–acidic bird poop–mechanical failure from wave stress–mineral buildup from splash
    If it works, Lake Havasau, Arizona would be a natural.

    • Kevin

      Karl, I would be very interested in learning more about the company you mentioned that was trying this.

  • Otis11

    Eh, I’m kinda iffy on this one – what’s the impact on the ocean ecosystem? On land we’re pretty familiar with what happens, but not so much in the ocean.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Pretty minimal. Seeing how Switzerland is land-locked. ;o)

      I would imagine the impact would be about like floating docks. Extra surface area for vegetation to attach. Place for small fish to hang out close to the surface while avoiding birds.

      Overall, putting thousands of these on the ocean – next to nothing. Tiny percentage of the total area. Might create some fish nurseries and provide a bit of protection for the ocean bottom,

      • Otis11

        Yeah, you’re probably right, but I just don’t like the idea of reducing the amount of light that penetrates into the sea. We’ve messed with that ecosystem so much the more we can leave it alone to recover the better.

        I would much rather see us cover our man-made structures with solar panels and throw up some wind mills than start stealing sunlight from the ocean, but I guess it’s better than throwing more stuff into the air – which is absorbed by the ocean in the end anyway.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not seeing much sense in this. With wave action the panels are going to be moving out of optimal orientation toward the Sun.

          Put them in a marine environment and the faces will get salt encrusted and have to be washed off.

          On top of existing structures makes the most sense to me. Landfills, parking lots, brownfields, ….

          One idea for floaters that seems to make some sense is over the very long canal that carries water from the San Francisco area to SoCal. Those panels could be anchored to the canal sides and their shade would reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation.

          • Otis11

            There’s also hundreds of miles of canals near Phoenix Arizona… and if I remember correctly the stretch most of the way to California. At least to the mountains because I remember seeing the pumping centers that pump water through them.

          • karl

            The advantage of floating panels is-cheap modular floating units-easy to rotate the raft to follow the sun- No bearings to maintain-no obstructions to the sun path-water is a great heat sink if you want to use concentration ( no, you’re not heating the water body. The light would penitrate the water if the panel wasn’t there).
            I like the canal idea because there shouldn’t be any power line right of way problems.— No need to build roads for access, Most big ones have a maintaince road. –No, or low land rental cost–No critter objections

    • Zachary Shahan

      wind turbine structures have benefited marine environments.
      but sure these would need to be tested separately, and the effect on unique marine ecosystems (different from those above) would need to be evaluated.

      • Otis11

        Yeah I remember reading about those and I understand that the structure itself doesn’t cause a problem, I was just thinking that if you block a significant portion of sunlight it might disrupt the ecological producers in that area and ripple though the system… Even if it’s trivial (as Bob Wallace pointed out) on the grand scale, I’m still not convinced blocking light won’t have a negative impact on the local ecosystem.

        • Zachary Shahan

          Yeah, no idea. Would really have to be studied well if these were to be used extensively.

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