The unavailability of large swathes of land has forced developers in the solar power segment to look elsewhere to set up solar power plants in a more sustainable manner. In this regard, canal tops, hybrid power and other such technologies have emerged as important solutions. A recent phenomenon of this is also the emergence of floating solar power plants, or floatovoltaics, which have found a considerable market in the Southeast Asian (SEA) region.
Floatovoltaics are solar power plants set up on floats on the surface of waterbodies instead of being fixed on the ground. While land conservation is one of the primary advantages of floatovoltaics, the structures provide shade to the water and reduce evaporation. Meanwhile, the water surface helps improve the cooling effect on the solar modules resulting in more efficient generation and delayed degradation, thus extending the life of the system.
Three major factors are likely to influence the potential success of floatovoltaics in the SEA region – high energy demand, lack of land, and high dependence on fossil fuels for power generation. As demand for energy in developing SEA countries increases, the question of sustainable energy generation will become progressively important.
In June 2019, a 200 kW floating solar project was commissioned on the 1,170 hectare Magat reservoir on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Philippines-based renewable energy group SN Aboitiz Power-Magat (SNAP) developed the project. The technology has been provided by Norwegian technology provider Ocean Sun, in partnership with Chinese solar manufacturer GCL-SI. Following the commissioning, the project is slated to undergo a stress test to understand the effect of the various inflows and other climatic phenomena in the reservoir on the floating modules. If the pilot shows positive results, the developer may consider expanding the project to megawatt scale.
In March 2019, the first phase of one of the Philippines’ largest floating solar test beds was completed. Constructed on the Laguna lake in the northern part of the island of Luzon, the project has been developed by Philippines-based Sun Asia Energy through its subsidiary NorteSol Energy and uses solar modules from Chinese manufacturer Trina Solar. Half of the plant’s modules are set up on aluminium-based frames while the other half are frameless. The second phase of the project, which involves scaling up, may see modules from other manufacturers as well.
Singapore has developed the world’s largest floating solar test bed on the Tengeh reservoir in Tuas, Singapore. Designed, implemented and operated by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) with a total installed capacity of 1,000 kW, the test bed uses 10 different solar power generation systems of 100 kW each including NRG Energia, 4C Solar, SolarGy, Phoenix Solar, Ciel & Terre, BBR Greentech, Solaris, REC, and Sharp, among others. The test bed not only provides a comparison of solar power generation on waterbodies with a land-based solar project – a reference 20 kW rooftop system mounted on top of an inverter room – it also gives information to analyse the performance of different manufacturers. Various types of systems are used including bifacial and glass-glass modules. Sensors are employed to monitor the performance of each solar power system. After a considerable period of evaluation, two best performing systems will be scaled up for a larger 2 MW installation. In 2018, the Housing Development Board planned to initiate a research programme focused on floatovoltaics in marine systems. In October 2018, the Economic Development Board began exploring the viability of a 100 MW floating solar project on the Kranji reservoir. In November 2018, Sunseap announced the development of a 5 MW floating solar project along the Straits of Johor. In April 2019, EPC tenders were released for the deployment of floating solar projects with capacity of 1.5 MW each in the Bedok and Lower Seletar reservoirs.
In early 2019, a 2.8 MW floatovoltaic system was commissioned at the Chip Mong Insee Cement Corporation pond in Cambodia by Cleantech Solar. The floats were procured from Ciel & Terre International.
Abu Dhabi-based Masdar Clean Energy has identified over 60 reservoirs in Indonesia as potential locations for floating solar power plants. It signed a project development agreement with Indonesian utility PT Pemangan Jawa-Bali to build a 200 MW floating solar plant on an area of 225 hectares at the Cirata hydroelectric plant reservoir in West Java province.
Thailand-based SPCG has announced plans to work with InterAct, a Japan-based renewable energy company, to develop floatovoltaic plants for power shrimp farms. Ciel & Terre has opened a 50 MW float manufacturing facility in Thailand. SCG Chemicals has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to undertake research and development of floating solar power projects on the utility’s waterbodies. SCG was the first company in Thailand to successfully design and manufacture a floating solar power system with a capacity of 979 kW at Rayong’s Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. EGAT announced its plans to assist in the development of 2.7 GW of hybrid floating solar-hydro projects at nine dams in the country. Two projects of 45 MW and 24 MW are already under development.
In Malaysia, around 78 lakes have been identified as potential sites for the development of floatovoltaic projects. Malaysia was one of the early movers in this space with a 270 kW floatovoltaic installation built in 2016 by Cypark Resources Berhad in partnership with Ciel & Terre. A few more projects have been in the pipeline for some time. These include a 30 MW at the Terip dam and one at the Kelinchi dam in Negeri Sembilan in a contract with Cove Suria.
In Vietnam, the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme for ground-mounted solar power installations has been extended to floating solar power projects as well. The FiT was extended by another 12 months in Ninh Thuan province following its expiration in June 2019. Vasari Energy, a California-based green tech company, has plans to develop two floating solar projects in Vietnam with a capacity of 40 MW-50 MW. A 47.5 MW floatovoltaic project is under construction on the reservoir of the Da Mi hydropower plant in Binh Thuan province. The project was initiated by the Da Nhim-Ham Thuan-Da Mi Hydropower Joint Stock Company and is being aided by the Asian Development Bank. Meanwhile, Ciel & Terre has opened a manufacturing facility in the country.
Floatovoltaics provide a solution to a larger problem that may soon begin inhibiting the expansion of solar power onshore. Man-made watersbodies present a feasible location for generating clean power with a variety of benefits including cooler temperatures and negligible shading. For countries in the SEA region that struggle with land constraints, this technology may be the answer for sustainable power generation without compromising on real estate.