6 February 2018

Three years from now there will be 2500 square metres of solar panels in the North Sea

Utrecht University is conducting research into the first floating offshore solar plant

Utrecht University is taking part in a unique project: the first floating offshore solar plant. Over the next three years, six Dutch companies and knowledge institutions will develop, build and take this plant into use. The idea is to make it possible, in the future, to generate clean energy even in places where available land is scarce.

The consortium consists of ECN, TNO, MARIN, TAQA and Oceans of Energy. Utrecht University is conducting the study into the energy production of the first offshore prototype, located some fifteen kilometres off the coast near Scheveningen. ‘Offshore, the seawater provides a strong cooling effect,’ explains Utrecht University solar-energy expert Wilfried van Sark. ‘As a result, the yield of a solar panel there is expected to be around fifteen per cent higher than it would be on land. Yet there are other factors that negatively impact yield as well. The solar panels will at times be underwater – when the waves reach heights of ten metres, this is unavoidable. The panels will wobble a bit, too. The impact of those dynamic shifts in tilt angle hasn't yet been studied, either.’

According to Allard van Hoeken, founder of initiator Oceans of Energy, this project will in any case be a unique one. ‘What we intend to do here in three years' time is remarkable and has never been done before. While solar farms have been constructed on inland bodies of water before, they have never been built offshore because of the difficulty of the undertaking. After all, it's a place where you're dealing with huge waves and other destructive forces of nature. With the knowledge and experience of these Dutch knowledge institutions and businesses from the offshore industry, however, we are convinced we will succeed.’

‘This is interesting for reasons including the enormous replication potential’

As of yet, there are no large-scale offshore solar-energy systems. Offshore solar power is a unique and sustainable way to generate energy because it does not take up any space on land. This makes it ideal for use near islands and in remote locations worldwide. If, in future, efforts are made to utilise the space between the offshore turbines in the North Sea, it will be possible to generate many times the amount of energy in the same surface area. This potentially offers an extremely attractive opportunity for the Netherlands and other North Sea countries.

For a period of three years, the consortium will receive financial support from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl), under the auspices of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy's Energy Top Sector. ‘This is an interesting innovation project for reasons including the significant replication potential. Besides sustainable energy production, it may also lead to increased sustainability of oil and gas platforms. RVO.nl is eagerly awaiting the results, including data on yield and lifespan under these difficult and demanding marine conditions,’ says Frank Witte, Energy Innovation Manager at RVO.nl.