Running out of land, Singapore is testing the feasibility of floating solar panels.
Running out of land, Singapore is testing the feasibility of floating solar panels to keep its ever-growing energy consumption at bay.
MInOctober 2016, the island nation of Singapore announced the launch of the world’s largest solar cell testbed in the Tengeh Reservoir, a project measuring over one hectare or roughly 11/2 football fields, to examine the effectiveness of different solar photovoltaic systems.
Speaking at the Asia Clean Energy Summit, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, said the project will run over six months to study the performance and cost effectiveness of the systems.
“Given our geography, solar photovoltaic systems are a key technology in Singapore’s efforts to harness renewable energy,” Mr Zlukifli said. “Floating photovoltaic systems, those installed over our water bodies, not only help to overcome land constraints, but also have the potential to reduce evaporative losses from our reservoirs.”
The funding for the SGD 11 million project comes from Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB), Public Utilities Board ( PUB), and the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS). Eight private sector companies, both domestic and international, are also participating in the project.
During the first phase of the project, 10 different types of floating structures and photovoltaic systems are deployed in the test bed, each generating around 100kW. Their performance is also compared against a baseline rooftop system that’s installed on a nearby building, and some of the power sent directly in the grid.
After the six-month evaluation period, two of the best performing systems will progress to phase 2 in 2017, for a larger 1MW peak capacity trial.
Three of the eight participants are local SMEs and the remaining five being international firms. Examples of systems being tested include one by REC Solar that uses bi-facial solar cells, letting in sunlight from both sides, and another which can be cooled with water pumped in from the reservoir to improve their performance.
“What we are trying to establish in our solution is to install the solar panel on the floating structure in a way that maximises the cooling effect of the water. Usually, this comprises a large piece of plastic that is moulded to the solar panel with an exposed rear side to the water to cool the unit. We also want to make use of the reflections from all the light coming from the back, so we came up with a bi-facial module that is vertically installed and has solar panels on both ends,” said Mr Torgeir Ulset, VP Sales & Marketing at REC Solar.
Although REC doesn’t have the
full data set to analyse efficiency yet since the module has been connected to the grid less than a month ago, the initial takeaways are largely positive.
“Based on the initial results, we can see proof that the concept is viable and it’s certainly outperforming the rooftop solar panels. The performance ratio, which in our field measures the efficiency of power output, is usually around 80% for most photovoltaic systems. For the floating installation, however, we can see from the data that we’re closer to 90%,” said Mr Ulset.
He notes that this efficiency increase is very interesting from an investment perspective and thanks to the strong media attention to the Tengeh Reservoir project as well as the legitimacy provided by the Singaporean government’s involvement, has driven a lot of interest for implementing floating solar in the region.
“There have been several of our clients requesting to come and see the unit from countries like Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and we are actively working on tenders and providing offers in the region,” said Mr. Ulset.
He also points out that a small country like Taiwan has several hundred MW of floating solar capacity, and that the market for is already starting to take off because of limited land area and the rooftop solar market being saturated. The Taiwanese government has an ambitious plan to replace a nuclear reactor with photovoltaic systems and they need about 2 GW of power generation coming from it. Given the land limitations, Mr Ulset is betting a lot of it will come from floating installations in reservoirs and pounds.
To measure the performance of the modules in the Singapore project, SERIS has developed an innovative monitoring solution that tracks movements along three dimensions and their respective rotations in real time. They claim this to be particularly useful for offshore photovoltaic systems in the future, which may not be visible from land.
PUB, the national water agency, has also attached a group of scientists to the project to assess the environmental impact on the reservoir, specifically the possible negative effects on biodiversity, water quality and evaporation, as a direct result of the installation and testing.
“The results of the environmental studies will allow us to make more informed decisions on how some of our reservoirs can support floating solar PV systems in future, after taking into account the economic viability of these systems,” said Mr Tan Nguan Sen, chief sustainability officer at PUB, in an interview with PV Tech.
Floating solar systems are becoming more and more attractive for Singapore to harness sunlight due to the limitations in roof space on land and because research has shown that they can be over 20% more efficient than rooftop systems in tropical countries.
“The results of the environmental studies will allow us to make more informed decisions on how some of our reservoirs can support floating solar photovoltaic systems in future, after taking into account the economic viability of these systems,” said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director at EDB.
“We are confident that the floating photovoltaic test bed will serve as an important reference for local and international companies to scale up their solar technologies for global markets,” he added.
EDB has also recently secured five new investments across the fields of solar, microgrids, smart grids and energy management in Singapore worth a total of SGD 50 million in cumulative business expenditure over the next five years.
Mr Kiong also notes that floating photovoltaic panels are fast catching on in places like Japan, China, Europe and the US.
“It is a highly exportable know-how and sector that we want to groom, and we are seeing that through the strong interest by the various companies wanting to participate in the test bed in Singapore… including energy giants,” he said.
And indeed, the testing in Singapore is already bearing fruit. In early March 2017, Upsolar, one of the participants and the developer of solar photovoltaic modules has been awarded a contract by HilvanEnerjj to supply panels for a 23.6MW solarfarm in Sanliurfa, Turkey.
Reported by Power Technology, once in operation, power generated by the facility will be able to provide sufficient electricity for approximately 17,500 households in the region. Construction will begin in a few months.
The plant will be equipped with 87,630 Upsolar UP-M270P modules. This system can generate approximately 40GWh and save up to 20,000 tonnes of CO annually. 2
Upsolar Group’s director Turkey and Middle East Mr Ioannis Markatatos said: “This project not only paints a bright future for Upsolar, but also for Turkey and the Middle East as both regions continue to ramp-up their solar energy capacity.”
Singapore itself needs more juice to fulfil the role of being the tech hub in Southeast Asia, too, powering public cloud heavyweights like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud (in 2017). Currently, data centres account for 7% of Singapore’s total energy consumption, which is projected to reach 12% by 2030 due to the continued growth of data centres based here.
The government has embarked on a long-term plan to establish itself as a key player in green IT, so the push for harnessing sunlight for energy is unsurprising, given that there are 17 freshwater reservoirs, making up to 2/3 of the island nation’s land surface, that could potentially be utilised for power generation.
In terms of innovation, the government’s plans to power all our favourite websites and services seem to be even more ambitious.
In 2016, the Info- communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced its plans to conduct trials of the world’s first data centre for tropical climates, with the objective to develop a proof of concept that data centres, which can function optimally at temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius (nearly double the recommended norm), and with an ambient humidity of 90% and above, which can normally expose equipment to a high amount of moisture that can shortcircuit the data servers.
“To create new value in our Smart Nation journey, we need to embrace an attitude of experimentation, to be willing to develop new ideas together and test the feasibility of progressive and positive technological advancements that have a good possibility to enhance our industry’s competitiveness,” said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s minister for communications and information, revealing the project at the Ministerial Forum on ICT. Left: REC's floating solar testbed in the Tengeh Reservoir.