When the German company SINN Power first introduced its floating hybrid renewable energy platform last year, the news caused barely a ripple. Now suddenly everyone is talking about the company’s so-named Ocean Hybrid Platform, including us. We’re calling it the Swiss Army Knife of clean power because it combines wind, solar, and wave energy all in one delicate-looking package. However, looks can be deceiving, and perhaps this spring chicken is no shrinking violet after all.
Renewable Energy, Saltwater Edition
The new hubub over SINN Power’s floating clean power contraption was probably sparked by an article posted on the company’s website earlier this week.
In the article, SINN Power notes that the idea of floating solar arrays on freshwater bodies has taken off like a rocket in recent years, but is not so easily transferred to the ocean environment, which can be somewhat more hostile.
“While freshwater floating PV is being installed in more than 40 countries worldwide, seawater floating PV is a new market. In contrast to freshwater floating PV, providers of seawater floating PV are confronted with harsh environments, where the widely known conventional systems will fail.”
Still, the oceangoing solar array is a tantalizing prize compared to the potential offered by freshwater resources.
For example, hydropower reservoirs represent one low-hanging, freshwater fruit targeted by floating solar developers. SINN takes note of a study by the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, indicating that the global potential of floating solar in that scenario is 7.6 terrawatts. That sounds impressive but the potential for offshore solar development in the seven seas is even more impressive.
A global estimate is yet to be forthcoming, but SINN points out that the offshore solar potential for The Netherlands alone is 45 gigawatts.
What’s Wrong With Floating Solar Panels?
Good question! Nothing is wrong with floating solar panels on water. In fact, when the scenario involves reservoirs and other freshwater infrastructure, solar panels can help conserve water by reducing evaporation.
When designed in concert with aquatic life, solar panels can also provide for shaded areas that improve biodiversity.
However, as SINN points out, the technology used on freshwater bodies does not require hardening against waves and other stormy conditions typical of ocean environments or, for that matter, large lakes.
“As the possibility of extreme weather events rises, these systems are in danger of failing. Depending on the extent of damage, consequences will range from loss of revenue up to a complete loss of investment. Therefore, current freshwater solutions face restrictions in deployments at sea, partly even in protected coastal areas and big lakes,” SINN emphasizes.
The solution SINN offers is a flexible design that can accommodate wave heights of up to 12 meters and winds speeds of 27 meters per second. SINN also claims that the skeleton of the structure can take on wind speeds of up to 60 meters per second.
That’s not exactly hurricane strength, but it does open up the potential to plumb offshore waters in bays and other sheltered areas for renewable energy. It’s also possible that SINN’s offshore platform could be shuttered or towed to safety when extreme weather threatens, considering that it provides for small and medium-sized deployment as well as large-scale arrays.
As for use cases, SINN is casting a wide net.
“Potential use cases for project developers include the complementation of offshore wind parks to increase baseload capacity, providing RE to aquacultures, the hydrogen production, or simply producing electricity for coastal areas, remote islands and many more,” says Dr. Philipp Sinn, the company’s CEO.
More Offshore Renewable For The Sparkling Green Economy Of The Future
If SINN Power wants to compete in the big leagues, the company has its work cut for it. The European Union has already glommed on to the idea of combining several types of renewable energy generation in one offshore array, through its EU-SCORES clean power initiative. Ireland’s Western Star offshore wind energy project is also looking to hook up with wave energy.
The idea is to get a green power twofer (or threefer, in SINN’s case), to help reduce the overall impact of offshore renewable energy development on the marine environment. Combining more than one type of renewable energy technology in one platform will also help create new efficiencies for onshoring the electricity.
US developers are eyballing the idea of co-locating offshore wind farms with floating solar panels, too, so stay tuned for more on that.
In the meantime, SINN Power has been testing out its clean power hybrid platform in the Greek port of Heraklion since 2015, with a sharp focus on the wave energy converters.
As those of you familiar with the wave energy field may appreciate, the wave conversion devices are probably the trickiest part of the venture. It appears that SINN has been deploying off-the-shelf wind turbines at the test site, and a similar approach for the solar panels may also be in the works. In contrast, SINN is relying on its own patented technology for the wave energy converters.
More Offshore Renewable Energy For The US
Even without the added benefit of solar and/or wave energy, the offshore wind market is set to take off by leaps and bounds now that the US has busted out of its logjam.
In the latest development on that score, yesterday the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the proposed South Fork Wind project off the coast of Rhode Island.
Compared to Dogger Bank and other massive offshore wind turbine arrays overseas, South Fork clocks is a relatively modest project clocking in at 130 megawatts. However, the approval is highly significant because it represents the second proposal in the pipeline under BOEM’s new streamlined process for offshore wind approvals.
Rhode Island is among the tiniest of US states, but it already lays claim to getting the nation’s first offshore wind array up and running. That would be the 30-megawatt Block Island offshore wind array, which predated BOEM’s new process and somehow managed to slip under the radar of renewable energy opponents.
That’s the tip of the iceberg. In all, the Biden-Harris administration anticipates that a total of 19 gigawatts in offshore wind will gain approval by 2025.
Though it’s not clear from the BOEM press release, that figure probably refers to 16 projects in the Atlantic coast pipeline. The Pacific coast and the Gulf of Mexico are next in line, along with the Gulf of Maine and offshore areas in Hawaii.
All of that activity translates into thousands of new wind turbines, including floating wind turbines suitable for deeper waters. No word yet on whether or not solar panels and wave energy converters will be part of the mix, but the prospects for more offshore renewable energy mashups are already looking good.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Image: Rendering of hybrid offshore renewable energy platform courtesy of SINN Power.
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