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How do floating solar panels work in practice and what are the consequences for the environment? What is the influence of waves and wind on this form of energy generation? A consortium recently started a study into this.

It is a collaboration between TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research), petrochemical company SABIC, Norwegian energy company Equinor and the Dutch municipality of Westvoorne. The latter is on board because this is where the location of the study is located: the Fieldlab Green Economy Westvoorne. On the Oostvoornse Lake, near the Maasvlakte area of The Netherlands.

The consortium has selected three companies with promising system designs. Their input can contribute to the further development of floating solar energy. Even under difficult conditions with high waves, strong winds and brackish water. The study should show how the systems perform in swells and strong wind conditions. Along with what the effects are on life underwater and on biodiversity.

High expectations for floating solar panels

The expectations for floating solar panels are high as they have an important role to play in the energy transition. By 2050, The Netherlands should be producing 200 gigawatt peak(GWp) of solar energy. A significant part of this will be solar energy systems on water. 25 GWp on inland waterways and 45 GWp offshore. Before that happens, more in-depth information must be gathered about the effects of the circumstances for floating solar panels and the ecological consequences.

The participating companies that supply the floating systems were selected from twelve candidates. They are Solar Float from The Netherlands and two international companies: SolarisFloat (Portugal) and Isifloating by Isiginere (Spain).

The three solar energy systems with a capacity of 50 kWp each are to be tested for one year on electrical performance, mechanical stability and ecological effects after their installation on the Oostvoornse Lake. The results can also help innovation companies to further improve their products in the area of solar energy. Various governments, knowledge institutes and environmental organizations are also interested in the study. These findings can help them with their views on applications for floating solar energy systems in the future.

Particularly pertinent: ecological aspects

A cabin with measuring systems and a reference field is to be placed on land for research into floating solar energy systems. A floating pontoon with small-scale test surfaces equipped with solar panels will be moored nearby just off the shore. The role of HZ University of Applied Sciences in mapping the ecological aspects is particularly pertinent. This makes the project one of the first studies to link the performance of floating solar panels to the effects on marine life.

The new research and the field laboratory are a step in the roadmap drawn up by the National Consortium Zon op Water (Sun on Water). The consortium’s mission is to make floating solar energy a resounding Dutch success. The green light was given for this back in 2017.

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