TAMING WILD WAVES
Engineers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) have developed the Heliofloat, a creative solution to placing solar panels on choppy seas.
Wild waves have, up to now, been the biggest obstacle to the proliferation of solar farms on the world’s oceans. But a new lightweight construction method has assisted the design of platforms 100 metres long that now remain steady and firmly in place, even in rough conditions.
Professor Markus Haider, from the Institute for Energy Systems and Thermodynamics, said: “The key to this is that Heliofloat is supported by open floatation devices.
“Were a platform to be simply mounted onto air-filled, closed containers, the design of the construction would have to be inefficiently heavy and robust in order to be able to withstand heavy waves.”
The Heliofloat platform is supported by open flotation devices similar to downward-facing barrels. They are made from a soft, flexible floating material. The upper section contains air that cannot escape, but which comes into direct contact with the water below. The column of air acts as the primary shock absorber, while the flexible side walls absorb small, horizontal forces.
This new construction method allows areas the size of football fields to be made available on the water with ease. The research team at TU Wien has developed concepts for harnessing the sun over the water using photovoltaics and parabolic-shaped mirrored troughs, while many further possible applications are also being considered.
Dr Roland Eisl, Director of Heliofloat GmbH, said: “Heliofloat platforms offer new possibilities for desalination plants and biomass extraction processes for salt water.
“In hot countries, Heliofloat platforms could be utilised to protect lakes against drying up.”