Fossil energy stakeholders have been fighting tooth and nail to keep their stake in the global economy, but new clean tech innovations keep slipping under the radar. The latest development involves floating solar panels on the ocean instead of planting them on land. To ice the green cake, a Dutch-Norwegian shipyard spinoff called SolarDuck is laying plans to leverage offshore wind farms for its new floating solar technology.
Leading Shipyard Dreams Of Floating Solar
Sending solar panels out into the open ocean presents a whole new set of challenges including saltwater corrosion, the constant stress of moving waves and persistent winds, and the occasional catastrophic storm.
Ship builders know how to deal with the challenges of oceangoing survival, which could explain why SolarDuck has quickly gained a foothold in the global floating solar field. The company launched in 2019 as a spinoff of Damen Shipyards, the leading Netherlands ship builder.
As described by Damen, the kernel of the floating solar idea was hatched during off-the-cuff discussions between two employees who saw untapped potential for offshore solar.
Damen has its own extensive R&D operation but the company has also been partnering with innovative startups like SolarDuck through its new Maritime Ventures division.
“Collaborating or investing in start-ups improves our strategic position and hence, our competitive advantage, and ultimately it makes it easier to achieve our sustainable and CSR goals,” explains the company’s Head of Corporate Development and Venturing, Joerek Kohutnicki.
Floating Solar On The Ocean: It’s Complicated
SolarDuck’s contribution to the offshore floating solar field is a modular, triangluar platform that can be linked with others to form giant hexagonal solar arrays that undulate like carpets on the waves.
That’s not as simple as it sounds, considering the impact of wind on floating objects as well as waves and currents, let alone saltwater and clingy aquatic life.
SolarDuck resolves the saltwater issue with offshore-grade aluminum guaranteed for 30 years or more. They also cut down the size of the platform floaters, reducing the area available for barnacles, mollusks, algae and other sea life to park. That’s an important consideration for floating offshore faciilites because excess marine fouling can throw the whole system off balance.
To mitigate wave impacts, the SolarDuck approach involves planting the solar panels on floating platforms instead of placing them directly on the surface of the water. Aside from reducing the risk of micro-cracks, the raised platform also helps reduce salt deposition on the panels. A 10-degree tilt also enables them to take advantage of rainwater cleaning.
In addition, the modular platforms are engineered to allow for flexibility in wavy conditions, and the solar panel layout is designed to reduce wind loads.
SolarDuck also paid particular attention to the mooring system, noting that an “efficient mooring layout optimizes space, scaling, [and] costs.” The company drew from offshore oil rig know-how as well as new floating wind technologies to design a cost-efficient mooring system.
Electrical systems are another focus of attention. “A durable electrical system reduces cost [and] improves performance,” SolarDuck notes. The company cites the following advantages of elevating the electrical system alongside the solar panels:
— Low probability of panel micro cracks due to water impacts
— No electrical cable fatigue and corrosion due to elevated system
COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] modules
— Effortless electricity connections between platforms
— Additional power output by cooling effect at sea
— East west configuration for optimal power output per area
As a safety and maintenance element, the floating solar platforms also incorporate the rigid, slip-resistant walkways and fences typically used in other offshore structures.
SolarDuck is also pursuing a manufacturing model that makes the most of local resources. The containerized, put-together system design allows for local assembly at pop-up factories employing local labor, and the installation can be accomplished by smaller workboats.
One Step Closer To Offshore Wind Farms With Solar Power
SolarDuck crossed the CleanTechnica radar last year, when the company sealed a deal with the leading offshore wind developer RWE to pilot its solar panels in a test in the North Sea. If all goes according to plan, the next step is a 5-megawatt demonstration project at the Hollandse Kust West VII offshore wind farm in the Dutch North Sea, and if that goes well RWE is also looking to deploy the solar technology globally.
RWE notes that integrating solar panels with wind farms provides for a more efficient use of ocean space, while sharing construction and maintenance costs. That could help make offshore wind farms more economical for regions with lower wind speeds, RWE points out.
Another efficiency relates to capturing more energy from daily cycles of wind and solar availability. “The result is a more balanced production profile due to the complementary nature of wind and solar resources,” RWE notes.
Things seem to be moving along quickly.
Earlier this morning, Offshore Wind Biz reported that SolarDuck has just nailed down €15 million towards developing its first commercial projects, with new and existing investors including Katapult Ocean, Green Tower, Energy Transition Fund Rotterdam and Invest-NL.
“In addition, the company is providing Japan’s first-ever offshore floating solar plant, to be installed in Tokyo Bay with local partners. A third project is underway with TNB Renewables in Malaysia,” Offshore Wind Biz notes.
First things first, though. RWE is looking forward to the installation of SolarDuck’s pilot floating solar project, which will mark the first time SolarDuck has actually floated its solar panels out to sea. A previous project involved deploying the platform on inland waters.
Called Merganser after a rather large duck, the pilot project has a nameplate capacity of 0.5 megawatts and will be located off the coast of Ostend in the Belgian North Sea.
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Image: Solar Duck has designed a floating solar array elevated on a floating platform, for standalone use or in conjunction with offshore wind farms (courtesy of SolarDuck via RWE).