We’ve been covering floating solar power for years, but I’ll admit it — when we started covering the concept in 2012, it seemed like a cool idea with many benefits, but I wondered if it would end up being commercially competitive enough to grow to a large scale. Not knowing the full costs, benefits, and challenges, it simply wasn’t clear. But the idea always had great appeal and caught people’s attention. It sounds cool.
Well, the technology choice has been growing and growing, with both larger and larger plants and broader application, including geographically. The latest country to add a floating solar power plant is Belgium, home of the European Commission.
Floating PV NV installed a floating solar power plant on 5 hectares of lake at a cost of €2 million project. It includes 17,250 solar panels that are expected to produce 7 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity per year, which is approximately how much 2,000 homes in the region use.
The lake is owned by Sibelco and was formed from sand extraction. Sibelco? The name didn’t ring a bell for me either, but the company was founded more than 100 years before I was born, in 1872, and the floating solar PV plant is a fitting addition. “Sibelco is a global material solutions company,” the company writes. “We utilise nature’s raw materials to provide solutions for society and support the cradle-to-cradle loop. From drinking water sanitation to solar technology, every day our materials work as essential components in the progress of society.”
“The innovative park was built on Sibelco’s ‘Schansheide’ sand quarry on the border of the Antwerp municipalities of Mol and Dessel in Belgium,” the company writes, adding that it will use as much electricity as it can from this power plant in the production of high-quality silica sand. This project as well as wind power plants the company owns are supposed to provide ~55% of Sibelco’s operations in Dessel. Though, presumably due matters of timing, approximately 20% of the electricity from the floating solar power is expected to be exported to the grid.
Project development began in 2017. “The Limburg Investment Company LRM, Group Machiels, Luminus and Sibelco are the initiators of this innovative project,” Sibelco also notes.
Additionally, the project did receive some financial support from the Flemish government. “The floating solar park produces 7 GWh of green electricity annually,” Flemish Energy Minister Zuhal Demir emphasized in her own statement on the project.
“The fact that the installation will be operational in 2020 is a boost to the Flemish renewable energy targets. Finally, the solar panels are conveniently located. …
“The Flemish Government wants to give full support to such projects. Floating PV will also carry out measurements and share its results with the Flemish Energy Agency.”
While the power plant is now constructed, it is not producing electricity yet. That is scheduled to begin in October following final technical connections allowing for it.