SUNdy Floating Solar – Sparking a New Energy Revolution
Countries like the Netherlands are turning to innovative solar technology and renewable energy to meet the growing global demand for clean, alternative energy sources.
The impressive economic growth of Southeast Asia despite the global financial crisis is unfortunately tied to increasing regional greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution due to fossil fuel burning. Yet in recent years, countries in Southeast Asia have turned their focus on renewal energy development in the region. Rising costs of fossil fuel imports, and the detrimental health and environmental impact of fossil fuel use on the planet are driving this shift towards clean energy solutions.
Governments around the world are moving quickly, putting in place, relevant policy frameworks and setting renewable targets to address the challenges. Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have adopted medium and long-term targets for renewable energy, with some countries embracing carbon reduction targets. While targets are more ambitious in some countries than in others, they serve as important catalysts for increasing the share of renewable energy in the region.
“In the Netherlands, the government has opted for a modern industry policy aimed at making better use of the economic opportunities for both green and grey energy,” says Adeline Tan, Senior Project Manager of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) based in Singapore. The NFIA provides free consultation to foreign companies planning to establish, expand and/or diversify their business operations in the Netherlands, Europe and the Middle East.
By 2050, the Netherlands will have a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system. As part of this, the Dutch aim to cut CO2 emissions by half to generate some 40 percent of its electricity from sustainable sources like wind at sea and biomass by that time. Carbon emissions will be reduced through a combination that involves increasing the portion of renewable energy, nuclear energy and Carbon Capture and Storage. By 2020, the European Renewable Energy Directive has set the target of achieving 14% renewable energy.
“Because renewable resources play an important role in our bio-based economy, the Dutch government has earmarked an annual funding of €1.4 billion from 2015 onwards, to stimulate renewable energy production – this represents a major step towards achieving the 2020 target,” Ms Tan shares.
The Netherlands has extensive experience in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Innovation and public-private partnerships are key to the Dutch approach: the government, private sector, and academia co-operate on priority topics such as energy savings in industry and the built environment, gas, smart grids, wind at sea, bio and solar energy. Whether it is experimenting with energy from waves, algae and biomass, the Dutch have developed innovative solutions in terms of decentralised energy production in greenhouses, CO2 ‘recycling’ and waste heat utilisation for their energy intensive horticulture industry.
Tapping on Solar Power
The sun is our primary source of energy. Solar radiation is distributed over the entire planet. Fifty percent of the population lives near the coast taxing land and fresh water resources. Combining these facts to tap solar as a truly sustainable resource, demands innovative solutions. New technologies are already breaking traditional barriers to increase efficiency and reduce costs when it comes to harnessing solar power for our consumption. It has become the fastest growing form of renewable energy.
Solar power converts sunlight to electricity, either indirectly using solar thermal, or directly, using photovoltaics (PV). PV cells utilise the photovoltaic effect, releasing electrons when exposed to sunlight, producing direct current (DC) electricity. This can be stored, or converted to alternating current (AC) with an inverter and fed into the utility grid or immediate local use.
PV systems are typically found on residential and commercial rooftops and ground-mounts in utility scale plants. In congested coastal cities, there is little opportunity for rooftop solar power and land surrounding urban areas commands premium prices – pushing large-scale ground mounted solar production to remote areas, far away from where the power is needed. This results in long transmission lines, issues with public acceptance, wildlife, and cost.
Dutch-Norwegian energy consulting and testing & certification company DNV KEMA recently launched a dynamic floating offshore solar field concept to address the growing global demand for renewable energy. The cutting edge technology otherwise known as SUNdy was unveiled during the Singapore International Energy Week in November 2012.
The Revolutionary SUNdy Concept
The launch of the SUNdy concept comes at a time when solar PV is experiencing substantial market growth. Almost 30GW of operating capacity has been added, increasing the total global capacity by 74% to more than 69GW, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network 2012 report. While the European Union still dominates the global market, markets are expanding in other regions, and China has rapidly emerged as the dominant player in Asia. Emerging markets, such as Southeast Asia, are also aiming to grow their renewable energy production with an increased presence in the solar sector.
Bjørn Tore Markussen, COO of DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability believes that the SUNdy floating solar field concept offers sound and sustainable development prospects, particularly for land-scarce megacities in Asia.
So how does it work?
The core of SUNdy is a 2 MW hexagonal array that floats on the sea surface. The scalable design can be deployed independently or linked together with others, providing electricity that can grow with demand. In other words, it has the capacity to generate 50 MW if needed.
The SUNdy concept uses thin-film 560 solar panels. Currently, wafer panels based on crystalline silicon solar cells are the most common, making up about 85% of the installed market, but thin-film solar panels are cheaper and gaining market share, with efficiencies approaching those of crystalline silicone. These thin-film panels are flexible and lighter than the traditional rigid glass-based modules, allowing them to undulate with the ocean’s surface.
The thin-film solar panels are mounted onto a pliable floatation mat, housing a three-phase micro inverter, converting DC to AC, to create a simple plug-and-play module using marine grade connectors.
Creating solar islands
An array of SUNdy floating modules will be manufactured as a pre-wired unit, significantly reducing the number of electrical connections while also minimising the need for offshore assembly. A collection of these arrays, totaling 4,200 solar panels, forms an expansive solar island the size of a large football stadium, capable of generating 2 MW of power. Multiple islands connected together constitute a solar field of 50 MW or more, producing enough electricity for 30,000 people. Islands would ideally be located in benign waters with depths ranging from 20–100 m and approximately five miles from shore away from shipping lanes.
According to Sanjay Kuttan, Managing Director of the DNV Clean Technology Centre in Singapore, “The key to creating an ocean-based structure of this size is the use of a tension-only design. Rather like a spider’s web, this dynamic, compliant structure yields to the waves, and yet is capable of withstanding considerable external loads acting upon it.”
Cables form the elegant hexagonal geometry employed to minimize the number of anchor points, while also allowing the energy islands to be nested or grouped. Separating the solar arrays into prefabricated sections allows for large-scale manufacturing and streamlined assembly offshore. The cable grid provides for maintenance access in the form of floating gangways. Below the surface, the shape of the island is maintained by the tensile forces from the lengthy spread mooring.
The island is optimised for solar capability and cabling efficiency. The solar arrays are divided into electrical zones feeding electricity produced into two main switches collecting the power for voltage step up at a central transformer (2MVA 480/34.5 kV). From the offshore solar farm’s central island, 30 kV electrical transmission lines connect, tying other islands in series to form a closed loop and continue to the electrical sub-station onshore for grid connection.
SUNdy’s system-wide modular design includes electrical connectors, arrays, cables and walkways, while the mid and perimeter markers are also common components and house water cannon for automatically cleaning the arrays. Perimeter buoys double as warning markers with navigational beacons. The entire island is therefore built up from a small number of repeated components.
Its photovoltaic solar modules have no moving parts, creating a reliable predictable and scalable system with low maintenance.
Compared to land, oceans have more space, and floating solar fields can be located close to areas where there is great energy demand. Offshore solar islands do solve the issue of land use and can be located close to population centers in the abundant space of the open waters.
“For land-scarce Singapore and other congested cities like Thailand and Indonesia, this floating offshore solar field concept may just offer the solution to meet their clean energy needs,” Ms Tan says.
Thailand aims to achieve 25% of its total energy needs from renewables by 2021. As part of this target, solar is expected to provide 12% of the country’s energy by 2030. Singapore, for example, is already working on its first floating photovoltaic test-bed project at the Tengah Reservoir to assess the feasibility of installing floating solar PV systems on water as an alternative to rooftops. This is an area that both Singapore and the Netherlands could co-operate in terms of knowledge and technology transfer, she adds.
With further changes taking place in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and changing attitudes to renewable energy, opportunities for solar are emerging throughout the region. It is only a matter of time before this exciting market makes the most of its extensive potential in this sector.
For more information on sustainable energy or investment opportunities in the Netherlands, contact Ms Adeline Tan at:
Tel: 6739 1137
Source and images credit: NFIA