Norwegian major Equinor is moving ahead with plans to test innovative open-sea floating solar technology developed by Moss Maritime at a site off the island of Froya in the Norwegian North Sea.

The pilot installation, which will measure 80 square metres, will be built this northern hemisphere summer and trialed for “a minimum of one year” at the site, which lies off Trondheim in west of the Nordic country.

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“If we succeed here, we can succeed anywhere,” said Hanne Wigum, head of Equinor’s wind and solar power technology unit.

Years of concept work

Alexander Thogersen, vice president of engineering at Moss Maritime, said the project was an “important step” toward commercialisation.

“We have been working on this concept for the past three years, most recently through our partnership with Equinor, and the concept has been substantially matured, both technically and economically.

“The floating pilot plant will be an important step on the road towards technology commercialisation, and an important arena for further development and optimisation of the concept," he said.

The main purpose of the pilot plant, noted Equinor “is not primarily to see how much energy it can produce, but how the weather conditions affect the plant”.

“The municipality of Froya has been a good collaboration partner for us,” said Wigum. “We have reached an agreement with the [regional] grid owner, allowing the electricity that is produced to enter the power grid on Froya."

She added that the proximity of Equinor’s research centre in Trondheim, as well as too the Sintef and NTNU R&D hubs “represent an advantage” for the company as it progresses develpoment of floating PV technology.

International reach

The Froya pilot is the third floating PV research demonstrator that Equinor has engaged in, with the energy giant also involved in a coastal project offshore Sri Lanka and a lake-based development in the Netherlands.

“We choose to perform several research projects in parallel because of the rapid growth within renewable energy. This enables us to acquire optimal knowledge about this as early as possible,” said Wigum.

Floating PV has been hailed for its huge potential in the next wave of energy transition, with the ability to capitalise on offshore acreage as well as unused water surfaces such as lakes and hydropower reservoirs to produce renewable power in countries where land may be scarce.

Technical advisory group DNV, which last year set up a cross-sector initiative to develop best practice for the sector, has cited estimates that human-made inland waters alone have the potential support up to 4 terawatts of new power capacity globally.

The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published a study that said wiring in floating solar arrays to existing hydropower reservoirs around the world could change the face of the global energy system by meeting nearly 50% of total electricity demand.

The researchers estimated that as much as 7.6TW of power could be produced from water-top PV.

This works out to about 10,600 terawatt hours of potential annual generation — even before output from the hydro plants — compared to worldwide electricity consumption which, according to International Energy Agency 2018 figures cited by NREL, was just over 22,300TWh.

Fitch Solutions forecasts growing levels of government support and investor appetite for floating PV will help drive almost 10 gigawatts of new deployment by 2025.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister renewable energy publication Recharge on 14 January, 2021.)