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Who Is Winning The Offshore Solar Race?

Solar is one of the most forms of clean energy we have, in a time that emissions-free energy is more important than ever. If the global community has any hope of keeping with the ambitious goals set by the Paris Agreement, in “keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius”, solar energy will play an invaluable part in this industrial re-revolution.

This being said, solar has its drawbacks, and they’re considerable. Solar is not particularly space-efficient, and while it’s become much more affordable in recent years, it’s still not the cheapest form of energy production by any means.

There is also legitimate concern for the amount of waste solar energy will create when older panels are phased out and those materials have to go somewhere. There’s also the fact that while we can count on the sun to rise each day, unfortunately “the amount of sunlight that arrives at the Earth’s surface is not constant” as summed up by the United States Energy Information Administration.

While not all of these limitations have an immediate and obvious solution, there is one solution, yet to be widely adopted, that helps with two of these drawbacks: offshore solar. Cheap it is not, but the growing offshore sector of the solar industry has a lot of unique advantages.

Despite a pricey installation, floating solar panels are ultimately more efficient thanks to the cooling effect of the water, which cuts down on thermal losses and thereby gives the solar panels a longer overall lifespan. In addition to its increased efficiency, offshore solar also offers more flexibility to build wherever the sun shines strongest as well as being able to build where space is not at a premium.

One nation taking advantage of the nascent offshore solar industry is Singapore. The tiny nation may be one of the world’s more powerful economies as well as a major energy consumer, but when it comes to energy production, the 278.6 mi² country simply doesn’t have enough space for any large-scale solar panel installation. Enter offshore solar.

Singapore’s own clean energy provider Sunseap Group has developed one of the largest offshore floating solar systems in the world. The 5 megawatt-peak system will soon be launched along the Straits of Johor between Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula, where it will soak up the Southeast Asian sun to generate approximately 6,388 megawatt hours of clean, renewable energy per year, “equivalent to powering about 1,250 four-room flats, with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 2,600 tonnes every year” according to reporting by the Straits Times. The system’s installation will be completed this year.

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Meanwhile, in Japan, offshore solar is being looked at as a potential replacement for the quite literal power vacuum left by the 50 nuclear power plants left unused in the wake of the 2011’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. When a Japanese think tank published their findings that showed solar energy could generate enough electricity to make up for the previous production levels of ten nuclear plants, critics questioned where Japan, a country where land is at a premium, could possibly install enough solar panels to make that thought experiment a reality. Last November Japan quieted those doubts when they opened the country’s largest solar power plant offshore in Kagoshima Bay. the Kyocera Corporation’s Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant now generates enough electricity to power approximately 22,000 homes.

Giving new meaning to offshore solar, a business in the remote in the Indian Ocean location of Reunion Island is taking a different angle. According to reporting by CNBC, French company Reuniwatt is using their unique (extremely) offshore location to take solar energy forecasting to a new level and develop technology to “improve the short-term predictability of solar generation” by offering day-ahead, intra-day and intra-hour solar forecasts.

Together, these frontrunners of the offshore solar industry are paving the way for a new clean energy future with much more versatility and possibility. As population continues to boom, it will only become more essential in the near future to be able to produce energy without taking over vast swaths of land, burning up valuable resources, or releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All this goes to say, offshore solar is likely here to stay.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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