Offshore PV system goes online in North Sea

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Oceans of Energy, a spin-off of Netherland’s Delft University of Technology, has finished installing the first section of an offshore PV system it is developing with a local consortium in the North Sea, off the Dutch coast.

The consortium that is developing the pilot project, which was launched in February 2018, includes the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN), the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific (TNO), the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN), and Abu Dhabi National Energy Co.

Oceans of Energy said the 8.5 kW modular PV system started operating at the end of November, and noted that it has already withstood its first storms. The plant will quickly be expanded to 50 kW, followed by a one-year testing phase. The project will then be expanded to 1 MW and to 100 MW at a later stage.

“We are now entering the next phase of scaling up. We are now going to collect the necessary investments for that, “said Oceans of Energy CEO Allard van Hoeken.

Wind combination

The project, which the state-run Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) is financially supporting, will test the viability of PV projects at sea, in combination with wind power.

“The combined use of space with offshore wind is possible, because the solar panels can float between the wind turbines at sea,” the company explained. “The great thing about the combination of offshore sun with offshore wind turbines is that you can generate five times as much energy on the same part of the sea, and that by combining these two you get a more stable and continuous power generation, with wind blowing harder in winter and the sun shining more in the summer.”

Van Hoeken said that solar at sea could end up being cheaper than offshore wind, once the technology is scaled up. He believes that offshore PV could help the Netherlands cover 50% of its energy demand, mainly by deploying solar close to existing or planned offshore wind projects.

Environmental protection

The company claims that the PV system will not pose a danger for the marine environment and that it could even produce a number of benefits. For example, the shadowing effect of the array on the water is negligible, as tidal currents continuously renew the seawater under the floating platforms.

Oceans of Energy also said the solar systems could offer fishing opportunities. “(We are) actively collaborating with the aquaculture sector on research in this area,” it explained.

The installation relies on standard modules that were procured by ECN. The consortium claimed the panels could even have a 15% higher yield than traditional PV systems.

Meanwhile, a Belgian consortium that includes engineering services provider Tractebel, a subsidiary of French energy giant Engie, is working on another offshore PV project in the North Sea. The group also includes DEME NV, solar manufacturer Soltech NV, and Ghent University. The €2 million PV array will be built near an aquaculture farm and offshore wind project.

Philippe De Baker, the Belgian secretary of state for social fraud, privacy and the North Sea, said in February 2018 that the government would support offshore solar in the North Sea. The first pilot project will likely be launched in 2020.