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.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

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.”

PHOTO: NOVA TERRA

PHOTO: NOVA TERRA

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.

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