Ocean Sun offers a new perspective on renewable energy through its offshore floating solar solution.
With diverse terrain and large bodies of water, many parts of Southeast Asia aren’t suitable for traditional solar solutions.
A Norwegian firm believes it has found the solution to these challenges. How do you get a person to walk on water? This may sound like a trick question, but it was something Ocean Sun needed to figure out during the development of its offshore floating solar solution.
It was imperative for the Norwegian company to create special floating structures that were durable and easy for installers to work on.
Ocean Sun created a thin, polymer membrane that prevented the breaking of waves and salt-water intrusion while being sturdy enough to support silicon solar modules. However, trying to model how the membrane would perform in real life conditions proved to be challenging for the company’s leaders.
“The hydro-elastic performance of the membrane was hard to mathematically model. Very early, the conclusion from professors was that it needed to be built to see how it would perform,” Dr Børge Bjørneklett, Chief Technology Office at Ocean Sun detailed. “So, we decided to build a prototype and placed it in the fjords for a year. This allowed us to get a better idea of how it would hold up.”
The membrane provided a similar effect to that of oil on troubled water, according to Dr Bjørneklett. The prototypes ended up being successful even if the firm didn’t quite know what to expect.
“We were very surprised with the results. People were able to walk on this membrane that is only one millimetre thick,” Dr Bjørneklett said. “That is because of the surface tension, which completely changes with no breaking of waves. It was quite a sensation to view. When you look and see people walk on the membrane, it leaves quite an impression.”
This innovation was an important step in the development of Ocean Sun’s floating solar solution. It meant installation and maintenance of the solar panels could be completed quickly and safely.
“Having this ability to walk on the structure is important during installation. The solar modules need to be installed at a high speed,” Dr Bjørneklett added. “It was a big revelation to us when we saw how the membrane responded. We initially thought we would need to distribute the load, but this was not the case.”
While the technology behind the membrane is remarkable to see, the power generation behind offshore floating solar is what will make the difference. The technology allows for large-scale solar developments on oceans, lakes and reservoirs.
Floating solar solves a few key problems with traditional solutions. While the renewable energy source will be extremely important, land-based generation options can be challenging, especially in places like Southeast Asia.
The only thing standing in the way of greater usage at the moment is a lack of geothermal hotspots, but a Norwegian company just might have a solution to this issue.
Even at a young age, Mr Audun Hassel, CEO & Inventor at Nova Terra, understood the world had an energy problem. Finding a solution to the air pollution created by power plants burning fossil fuels has been driving him ever since.
“I was about 12 years old when I realised that our global energy problem, is one of the greatest problems of humanity,” Mr Hassel recalls. “So, I decided I wanted to solve the world’s energy problem. Maybe it was a childish idea, but it triggered something deep inside, I just knew that was something I wanted to do. It wasn’t a straight path, but now, 28 years later, I have developed several solutions to these energy problems.”
He has worked on tidal power in the past, but it is his latest work in geothermal energy production with Nova Terra that could prove to be a gamechanger. The green-energy company came up with technology that greatly increases power production of new and existing geothermal plants. The Nova Terra solution also makes geothermal energy production profitable outside of current hotspots, something once thought of as impossible.
“The experts thought it was too good to be true and there had to be an error somewhere. We went to the Institute For Energy Technology and simulated our thermodynamic process in two different simulation programs. The reports clearly showed our thermodynamic process works far better than any comparable thermodynamic process,” Mr Hassel explains. “Not only could it more than double the electricity output of geothermal power plants, it can use far lower temperatures, starting from 60 Celsius. The plants of today need at least 120 Celsius to be profitable.”
Traditional geothermal power plants take up a huge footprint and are located in hotspots far away from where the power is needed. This means long and costly power transmission lines, which are harmful to the environment, are required. And this doesn’t even begin to factor in the costs involved with building geothermal power plants.
“Current geothermal power plants have high investment costs and take at least five years to build. The hotspot areas are risky with earthquakes, highpressure steam pockets, mineral scaling and a corrosive environment,” Mr Hassel states. “However, once they are built, they produce a steady supply of electricity for decades without any fuel costs or pollution. If the interest on the investment capital is low, geothermal power becomes very profitable.”
Understanding both the risks and upsides of current geothermal power plants, Mr Hassel and the team at Nova Terra wanted to find a solution that eliminated the challenges while keeping the clean power geothermal generates. Eventually, Mr Hassel would come up with what would become the core of Nova Terra’s geothermal technology.
“The idea came to me after staring at a thermodynamic diagram for almost a week. I did not know if I would find anything, but suddenly I had that ‘Eureka’ moment,” Mr Hassel details. “As the new
geothermal technology can use far lower temperatures, it can exploit geothermal resources even outside of geothermal hotspots. The economically exploitable geothermal resource potential increases by more than 1,000 percent.”
Nova Terra believes the technology could eventually allow many countries to become self sufficient using geothermal energy. The new thermodynamic process the company utilises requires a well with a depth of two to four kilometres where the water is hot, but not enough for traditional geothermal power production. Nova Terra’s technology uses hot water from this reservoir to create steam to run through the power producing turbines.
And unlike current geothermal power plants, which Mr Hassel compares to the appearance to chemical plants, Nova Terra has a different setup. The firm is able to set up small mass-produced plants where the power is needed. Additionally, the plants themselves feature a design that makes them less of an eyesore than current plants.
“Our plants are prefabricated standardised plants. Once the serial production and setup of plants is streamlined, plants can be set up within three months,” Mr Hassel says. “The power plants provide low power transfer costs and high supply security, two features not always possible with traditional geothermal power plants.”
The technology can also benefit existing geothermal power plants where well temperature may have dropped. This is a cost saving alternative to drilling new wells to find the water temperatures required to generate electricity.
“We can take old wells that are not producing sufficient temperature and use them to generate clean, high-temperature steam, which can be fed into existing turbines,” Mr Hassel notes. “This saves money on both drilling and turbine costs and can be highly profitable projects.” Asia’s power solution? In a bit of irony, the Nova Terra power plants don’t work all that well in Norway. According to Mr Hassel, the heat is too deep into the ground and it becomes too expensive to drill. The power produced would also have to compete with cheap hydropower that is currently available. Instead, the Norwegian company has turned its attention to Asia.
“We are currently focusing on big markets and where our technology can have the most positive impact in the shortest time. Southeast Asia is a wonderful area with the greatest geothermal resource potential in the world,” Mr Hassel states.
Indonesia, in particular, is an interesting country for geothermal power production. It is the fourth most populated country in the world with 261 million inhabitants. The Indonesia government is targeting 100 percent electrification by 2020. It contains the best geothermal resource potential in the world making it an ideal place for Nova Terra to enter.
“We recently had a promising meeting with PLN, the governmental energy company of Indonesia, and showed them how Indonesia can be selfsufficient with cheap geothermal power,” Mr Hassel reports. “We proposed an ambitious goal of setting up our new mass produced geothermal power plants, producing 30,000 megawatts of clean and affordable electricity by 2025.”
The company’s geothermal technology is now developed and proven. It now is on the lookout for a country to build its first pilot plant. Talks are advancing with Indonesia, but there are also other opportunities Nova Terra is exploring.
“We have recently joined forces with Jacobsen Elektro, a Norwegian company that builds power plants in Asia and Africa. We are currently looking into geothermal opportunities in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Tanzania,” Mr Hassel says. “Within five years we plan to establish a mass production facility of geothermal power plants and to be rolling out a series of plants in at least one country.”
Nova Terra is confident in the benefits of its technology, especially in Asia where their power plants will not have any trouble providing significant return on investment during the lifecycle.
“In many Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Japan, the payback is a few years and the plants will pay themselves back many times over during their lifetime. That is in addition to producing the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable power there is,” Mr Hassel says.
It would be possible for Nova Terra to sell this technology to a large firm, but it doesn’t want to head down that path. Instead, it is dedicated to a more altruistic approach that all began with Mr Hassel’s childhood desire to eliminate the world’s energy problem.
“Nova Terra is a small company with great ideas, which we want to share with the world. To avoid selling out and losing the control of the technology, we have decided to accept donations,” Mr Hassel proclaims. “This support enables us to share our technology with all. It also means we can avoid putting the technology in the hands of a multinational company, which traditionally focuses more on maximised profit than sharing and compassionate action.”
Above left: The Nova Terra solution can be placed where the power is needed and thus avoids expensive power transfers. The electric production cots is as low as USD 0.02/kWh. Above: Nova Terra geothermal power plants are prefabricated and can be installed close to where energy is needed.