Floating photovoltaic (FPV) systems have grown tremendously in the recent past despite the several barriers they must deal with, as their value proposition is sensible in regions with land scarcity. The global installed capacity for FPV systems grew almost five-fold from 566 MWp in 2017 to 2.6 GWp in 2020, with Asia (in particular, China) dominating the FPV space.
Most of these installations are in inland water bodies such as small lakes and reservoirs, as seen in Indonesia’s first utility-scale FPV project. FPV developers shy away from offshore deployments, as they face multiple technical and cost challenges; for instance, such systems must be durable to withstand harsh weather conditions. However, Oceans of Energy, a Dutch startup, has been developing offshore FPV systems since 2016 and claims that its design can tolerate extreme weather; it launched the world’s first offshore FPV system off the Dutch coast in 2019 to demonstrate its capabilities. This project faced its first big test during the recent storms of Corrie and Eunice that hit the Netherlands.
USE CASE AND BUSINESS IMPACT
The system in question is part of the North Sea 1 (NS1) project that began operations in 2019 with an installed capacity of 8.5 kWp. This project was developed with support from various research organizations and firms, including the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research and the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands. It was later expanded to 50 kWp in 2020. The system, situated 15 km away from The Hague, faced the wrath of two storms in the space of two weeks in early 2022. The first storm Corrie that hit the Netherlands on January 31 produced gusts of over 130 km/h, with wave heights of 9 m recorded on site. Eunice, the second storm that arrived on February 18, brought in wind speeds of 141 km/h, with recorded wave heights of 10 m.
Oceans of Energy divulged that the FPV system remained intact and functional after the incident and will go ahead with its plans to bolster its operational capacity to 1 MWp. Although this was announced in November 2021, the company provided no timeframe on when it will be commissioned, nor did it disclose how much the project would cost. Oceans of Energy’s long-term vision is to integrate utility-scale offshore solar with offshore wind energy in locations like the North Sea; the startup targets a total capacity of 100 MWp for this system in the future.
It is promising to see an offshore FPV project survive not one but two storms back-to-back in such a short period. Although this system is situated only 15 km offshore, these results show that the solution offered by Oceans of Energy is on the right track to be used in hybrid power generation farms alongside offshore wind. However, offshore wind has moved farther away with time, thanks to technological improvements and newer large-capacity turbines, with the average offshore distance for wind farms already having crossed the 50 km mark in 2016. The Gemini Wind Park, situated 85 km off the shoreline from the Dutch city of Groningen, is a prime example of this. Going such distances into the sea where extreme events like hurricanes could be more severe demands very robust designs and anchoring/mooring solutions, as FPV systems are more fragile than windmills.
Further investigation is also necessary to understand how a solar-wind hybrid system will work offshore. The complementarity of renewable energy sources is unclear globally, and the extra energy produced by an offshore PV system in a hybrid system remains unknown. Additionally, other aspects such as shading performance due to tall wind turbines and maintenance frequency need to be assessed. Companies interested in floating PV should monitor how the concept evolves technologically and financially; although a hybrid system reduces installation costs for the PV system, other aspects such as maintenance costs or mooring systems increase expenditures. Oceans of Energy has passed an important test by showcasing its design’s endurance; however, it still needs to tick other boxes (e.g., performance, costs) before proving concept viability.