energy technology

How Solarduck floats solar panels at sea

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about floating solar farms, and the advantages of panels over water. All the projects I was writing about were on inland water – lakes, reservoirs or canals. Could you do the same thing over the sea?

The challenges are very different. The solar farms would have to resist the constant tug and pull of waves, and the very powerful forces of storms. Wind speeds can also be formidable at sea. Any kind of offshore infrastructure has to be over-engineered for resilience, and even highly robust wave power projects have washed up on the shore.

Then again, solar panels don’t have any moving parts, which is where wave power comes unstuck. Your offshore wind farm just has to bob on the surface, light enough to float and heavy enough to avoid being blown away.

I hadn’t heard of anyone doing this until last week, when I read a BBC article about a company called Solarduck. They’re based in Norway and the Netherlands and have imported expertise from existing offshore industries to create solar farms on elevated triangular platforms. These can be manufactured and towed into position at sea, moored in place and joined together to make large tesselated arrays.

One obvious place to put them is around offshore wind turbines, doubling up on the cable infrastructure. Solarduck are partnering with RWE to trial this at a site off the coast of the Netherlands. It will be the world’s largest offshore solar installation and will turn the wind farm into a wind/solar hybrid. The project will be complete in 2026 and might be one to watch.

If it’s successful, Britain has a number of suitable sites that could host something similar – and some sites where you’d really need to think twice about it. The North Sea is notoriously rough and probably isn’t going to be appropriate for solar. Plenty of places elsewhere might benefit from the idea if it can be tested and proven. It could be particularly useful for island states or dense coastal cities, where land is at a premium.

  • See the Solarduck website for more, including videos of how it works
  • There are others attempting similar things, and the BBC article includes a project in Indonesia.

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