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Floating photovoltaics set to assist Southeast Asia's clean energy future

11 Jul 2023

NREL report surveys how FPV can bolster regional energy supply.

As countries around the world make plans to install solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) energy generation technologies as part of their clean energy programs, the locations of those solar cells is one pressing concern.

Some countries have abundant sunlight for power generation but limited land availability, and for those territories floating PV (FPV) is a potential solution.

FPV arrays can be situated on bodies of water including lakes or reservoirs, installed alone or in combination with hydroelectric stations, and help to eliminate concerns over land use.

In January 2023 a Dutch project named the Offshore Solar Platform was launched to study the generation of green energy, with the use of FPV being one aspect of the transition. That project stated that by 2050 it expects 25 gigawatt peak (GWp) of solar power to come from inland waters and 45 GWp from at-sea sources, as part of the Dutch total 200 GWp from solar power.

It also indicated that knowledge was currently lacking about how long term FPV installations might be affected by exposure of their solar panels to wind and waves, a topic that requires further study.

A report from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), described as the first of its kind, has now studied how FPV might contribute to electricity generation in the Southeast Asia region, and provided its findings as a publicly available dataset.

The report, Enabling Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FPV) Deployment: FPV Technical Potential Assessment for Southeast Asia (pdf), covered the ten countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a region with significant existing hydroelectric infrastructure but some concerns around energy security during periods of drought and water scarcity.

Photovoltaics and aquaculture for energy supply plus food security

"While we can't generalize about Southeast Asia as a whole, one thing that is basically universally true of the region is that it has an established network of hydropower generation sites," commented co-author Evan Rosenlieb from NREL. "FPV can support these sources as water levels fluctuate to ensure grid stability. Additionally, much of the region is covered by rainforest ecosystems. Siting PV on water can be a way to increase renewable energy generation without deforestation."

The NREL report notes that current barriers to FPV deployment in the region include economic, environmental, cultural and regulatory factors. Technical challenges also exist, although developments currently underway in FPV technology will play a part in enhancing its appeal for ASEAN installations.

"FPV technology in prior assessments has been generally limited to fixed-tilt monofacial panels," said the report. "However there is growing research and interest into FPV systems that utilize bifacial panels which can absorb sunlight from both sides, and tracking technologies to adjust panels' tilt and orientation, both of which have become increasingly common in the land-based solar PV industry."

An attractive synergy might also be present between the region's FPV solution and aquaculture, a method of farming where aquatic creatures such as fish, crustaceans, and others are raised on controlled water environments. Aquaculture sites may present particular opportunities for FPV deployment and benefits.

"Along with its other co-benefits, FPV can play an important role in bolstering food security in Southeast Asia through incorporation with the region's fast-growing aquaculture industry," said Prateek Joshi, lead author of the NREL report.

"This emerging combination of aquaculture and photovoltaics, commonly referred to as AquaPV, can allow countries to colocate energy and food production on existing natural or artificially created water bodies while minimizing the overall environmental impact of both sectors."

ABTechBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationHyperion OpticsAlluxaLASEROPTIK GmbHCeNing Optics Co LtdECOPTIK
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