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Floating solar is on the rise. With Norway’s extensive experience and history from the maritime, offshore and energy industries, the country is well equipped to lead technological development in this segment.
The world’s demand for electricity will double by 2050. At the same time, the share of fossil energy in the energy mix must be reduced. According to the classification society DNV GL, 70 per cent of electricity demand will have to be covered by solar and wind power if we are to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement.
“At present, solar energy only covers a small percentage of this demand. There is enormous potential here, and it is important to me that Norway participates in this growth,” says Inger Strand.
She is Business Developer at the Norwegian Solar Energy Cluster, an organisation working to promote the solar energy industry nationally and internationally.
Floating solar is a relatively new technology, and a niche in solar power. But what is it exactly?
“I’m sure you’ve seen solar panels on roofs. Floating solar is basically arrays of panels that have been placed on floating structures on water,” explains Strand.
Solar energy is considered the energy source of the future because it is clean and almost inexhaustible, but solar parks require vast areas of land. This makes it difficult to build solar power plants near cities, where there is often a lack of space. The solution may be to generate solar energy on the water along the coastline or on reservoirs.
“Floating solar is an environmentally friendly way of giving more people access to electricity. It also frees up large land areas that can be used to cultivate food, for example,” says Strand.
“It is smart of us to use the surface of the sea,” she points out. Half of the earth’s population lives in proximity to the coast, and three-quarters of the world’s large cities are situated by the sea. This can provide a short path from production to consumption. In time it may become a more economical solution than buying costly land.
The market for floating solar is growing and, according to Strand, Norwegian companies are experiencing great national and international demand for their technology.
One of the challenges of floating solar is to determine the best site and how the installation should be constructed, moored and anchored based on sufficient site-specific data. The Norwegian company Glint Solar helps to solve this challenge by providing analysis tools for quick, comprehensive analyses of prospective floating solar sites.
“Another challenge with floating solar is that it is produced on the water, so it is exposed to waves, saltwater and rough weather. That is precisely why it is a good niche for Norway,” says Strand.
“Because if there is something that Norwegians can do, it is to handle tough conditions,” she points out.
“Norwegian industrial partners can use the expertise and technology they have developed in the oil, offshore, aquaculture and power industries.”
“We have among others Equinor, which produces natural gas, and Statkraft, which is Europe’s largest supplier of renewable energy. These synergies are what make us unique globally,” she says.
In Norway, the electricity produced by floating solar can be transmitted to a neighbourhood near the installation, to electric ferries, to a commercial building or directly to an energy supplier that will sell it on.
Norwegian energy companies that build hydropower plants around the world can also double the benefits, using the reservoirs to produce power with floating solar. These companies have the advantage of having transmission infrastructure already in place. Ocean Sun is one of the Norwegian companies specialising in floating solar. The company has developed a patented new technology inspired by the aquaculture industry and will be delivering a floating solar plant for Statkraft’s Banja reservoir in Albania.
The market for floating solar is first and foremost international.
“The potential for growth is greatest outside of Norway. Asia in particular is a large market for floating solar today, and several large solar parks have already been built on the water,” says Strand.
Norway is a small country. That is why it is particularly important for the players in the industry to collaborate with one another, stresses Strand. This is also the main objective of the Norwegian Solar Energy Cluster.
“We need to present a united front to the world, so that we can take a larger share of the global market,” she concludes.