Offshore floating PV demonstrator to go online on Belgium’s North Sea coast


A Belgian consortium – including the Tractebel engineering subsidiary of France's Engie – plans to switch on a floating PV pilot project in waters off the port of Ostend, on the Belgian North Sea coast.

The group – which also includes Dredging, Environmental and Marine Engineering NV (DEME), marine offshore specialist Jan De Nul and Ghent University – said the project's main contractor, Equans, is now carrying out final assembly.

The group says it built the array’s floater with an unspecified type of lightweight carbon fiber material, which presents potential benefits for offshore use, but is not often used in harsh marine conditions. Optical embedded fibers and sensors attached to the structure will assess whether the material’s structural integrity (vibrations/fatigue) is in line with the numerical models and results obtained from the ocean wave tank and wind tunnel tests.

The consortium, which also has the support of Ghent University, plans to collect data from the floating plant for a year to advance the development of offshore photovoltaics on a large scale.

“It is important not only to minimize the attachment of excessive marine growth to the floater to maintain its buoyancy,” the group said. “Specific tests will be conducted to assess combining the floater systems with mussel cultivation and oyster farming, which present specific challenges.”

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The project will collect data on the impact of waves, rain and salt spray on various solar module technologies with different configurations. The companies also want to assess the effects of different angles of inclination caused by waves and wind on energy yield. They also want to evaluate the effectiveness of necessary protective measures for the solar modules against seawater and bird droppings.

Tractebel is also testing another offshore solar project in the North Sea. The group, which includes DEME, solar installer Soltech NV and Ghent University, installed a €2 million ($2.2 million) array near an aquaculture farm and offshore wind project.

Expectations for this new application are high. Offshore PV in combination with wind farms on the high seas could enable the use of multiple locations and existing infrastructure for electricity.

In a study published in 2020, scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands claimed that offshore PV plants could be more productive than ground-mounted arrays, after running a simulation comparing a North Sea project to a conventional system at the Utrecht Photovoltaic Outdoor Test field. The Dutch government says it plans to commission 3 GW of offshore PV by 2030.

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