A new "floating carpet" of solar panels is coming to the North Sea

It offers a solution to the growing land shortage to produce renewable energy.
Christopher McFadden
SolarDuck's large plant.RWE

In sustainability news, a new project to create a "floating carpet" of solar panels in the North Sea has just been announced. As part of a more extensive collaboration to create "floating solar parks," the German energy company RWE will invest in a pilot project to deploy floating solar technology in the North Sea.

The 0.5-megawatt peak (MWp) pilot, known as "Merganser", is scheduled for installation in the waters off Ostend, Belgium. "Merganser" will be the first offshore pilot for Dutch-Norwegian company SolarDuck, according to a statement released by RWE earlier this week.

"Merganser", according to RWE, would give SolarDuck and itself “important first-hand experience in one of the most challenging offshore environments in the world.”

The innovation of SolarDuck brings up new possibilities for solar energy, even in the abrasive conditions of the North Sea. RWE, according to its press release, has consequently chosen SolarDuck in its submission for the Dutch HKW VII contract (system integration).

edp solar farm floating
This is not the first floating solar farm, EDP, for example, has been developing its own too. Source: EDP

Integrating an offshore floating solar plant at a pre-commercial scale with 5 MWp together with cutting-edge energy storage techniques into the offshore wind farm will be made possible by the winning offer.

To establish both stand-alone and hybrid commercial offshore floating solar parks, RWE and SolarDuck will continue to build on their partnership with project "Merganser" and HKW. The combination of SolarDuck's technological and commercial creativity and RWE's dominant position in the worldwide market creates the ideal framework for advancing the adoption of this high-potential technology.

From 2023 forward, the project's lessons learned would speed up the commercialization of the technology.

What is so special about the SolarDuck system?

The offshore floating solar technology created by SolarDuck opens up new possibilities for solar energy. It offers a solution to the growing land shortage to produce renewable energy. Incorporating offshore floating solar into an offshore wind farm provides for synergies concerning the building and upkeep of the multi-source renewable energy plant. It is a more effective use of ocean space for electricity generation (using the space between the wind turbines).

The complementary nature of wind and solar resources leads to a more balanced output profile.

A system that can endure harsh offshore circumstances, such as high waves, strong winds, and a corrosive environment, is needed to move solar farms offshore. The triangular-shaped platform from SolarDuck, which has been certified by Bureau Veritas as the world's first offshore floating solar installation, is made to float several meters above the ocean and move with the waves like a carpet.

Thus, maintaining the integrity of the semi-submersible structure, keeping important electrical components dry, clean, and stable, and allowing safe operations with little maintenance.

floating folar farm singapore
Floating solar farms are also being developed in places like Singapore. Source: Sembcorp

Sven Utermöhlen, CEO of Wind Offshore of RWE Renewables states: “RWE is constantly looking for innovative ways to further improve the production of renewable energy offshore. We are very keen to further explore the potential of offshore floating solar together with our partner SolarDuck. For countries with lower mean wind speeds but high solar irradiation, this opens up attractive opportunities. With the SolarDuck pilot, we are gaining experience with highly innovative offshore floating solar technology. We want to contribute to accelerating the energy transition, have a positive impact on marine ecology, and help to integrate energy systems. Together we can make a real difference using tomorrow's technology for today's projects.”

SolarDuck’s CEO Koen Burgers states: “The need for secure, sustainable, and affordable energy demands new and immediate answers from the industry in Europe and also globally. SolarDuck is part of this answer, bringing solar energy into its next frontier, the oceans. Showcasing SolarDuck’s robust technology in rough North Sea conditions will enable us to deploy the technology practically anywhere in the world. We are very pleased that we found in RWE a strong partner who shares our vision of electrifying the world with offshore floating solar. I look forward to our organizations working together to achieve just that.”

A longer-term objective of the partnership is to employ SolarDuck's technology in a more extensive demonstration project at the offshore wind farm Hollandse Kust West, which RWE is now bidding for.

In its statement, RWE said the “integration of offshore floating solar into an offshore wind farm” was “a more efficient use of ocean space for energy generation.”

This new project is not the first to combine solar and wind like this

RWE is not the first company to combine solar and wind energy. Along with being situated in the North Sea, the Hollandse Kust (noord) wind farm also intends to use a floating solar technology demonstration.

floating solar farm solarduck
Birds-eye view of SolarDuck's floating solar power platform. Source: SolarDuck

Eneco and Shell have teamed up to form CrossWind, the consortium building Hollandse Kust (noord).

EDP, a Portuguese energy company, opened a 5 MW floating solar park in Alqueva earlier this month. The park, which has over 12,000 solar panels, was referred to as "the largest in Europe in a reservoir" in the statement.

According to EDP, a Portuguese energy company, the project would make it possible to mix solar energy with hydroelectric power from the Alqueva dam. According to plans, a battery storage system will also be put in place.

All of the initiatives above contribute to the concept of "hybridization," which combines several renewable energy technologies and systems in one location.

The bet on hybridization, which combines electricity produced by water, sun, wind, and storage, was described as a "logical path of growth" by EDP CEO Miguel Stilwell d'Andrade in remarks that were published last week.

He noted that EDP would keep making investments in hybridization because it helped the company produce electricity more cheaply and made the most use of its resources.

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