The emerging development of floating renewables

Published: 18 Dec 2017 By Matt Cook

Many new renewable energy projects that are making the headlines have one thing in common - they all float. With growing costs associated with purchasing land and difficult planning consents to develop large-scale projects, it is becoming more challenging to develop projects on land. This is spurring the development of new, floating renewable energy projects worldwide.

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The first operational floating solar facility was developed and completed in 2014 in Berkshire. In 2016, the largest floating energy farm in Europe was constructed and operating in Surrey. The site consists of a capacity of over 6MW and consists of over 20,000 PV panels covering the equivalent of 8 football pitches. 

Elsewhere, the floating solar site at the Yamakura Dam Reservoir in Japan will generate nearly 14 MW of power.

The most recent project and by far the biggest is the floating renewable energy plant in China. The huge installation consists of over 120,000 solar PV panels, covering a land space the equivalent of 160 football fields.

Whilst solar has become a popular choice for floating renewable energy projects, the wind industry has only taken relatively small steps. A recent installation in Scotland, the Hywind Scotland project is the first floating wind installation project with a capacity of 30MW. The site consists of five turbines, located approximately 15 miles off the Scottish coast.

Floating wind technology could be a viable option for many countries. There are nations with water too deep for traditional offshore systems. Floating technology can provide a huge advantage, especially off the coast of Japan, USA and within the Mediterranean.

Whilst the technology has a lot of potentials, making the projects commercially viable is the real challenge.

Floating technology has massive potential and could reduce the challenges and complications associated with constructing projects that require fixing to sea-beds.

Renewable energy projects are becoming more common and popular worldwide. Whilst utilizing new technology can be expensive, it can result in creating a more sustainable and cost-effective long-term project. Costs for wind and solar are continuing to decline making new projects and technology more economically feasible.

Falling costs within the renewables sector will allow further offsetting of any additional costs associated with floating project.

Aside from the economic challenges, there are design implications that need further research. This includes designing PV technology that can withstand the effects of humidity and potentially salt. Industry experts are developing a range of new designs in particular for developing floating wind technologies.

Floating energy installations could have the ability to satisfy the growing energy demands without adding any further pressure on purchasing additional land. More technology located offshore will mean less pressure on land use and the rising demand for further housing.

Businesses are recognizing the long-term benefits of developing renewable energy technology. Rising demand for renewables will no doubt encourage floating energy project development worldwide. 

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