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French-Israeli team eyes solar installations on water

Posted: 04 Mar 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar power? photovoltaic company? hydroelectric power?

Israeli firm Solaris Synergy and France's EDF Group are collaborating on the development of floating solar power plants. The joint effort seeks to eliminate the need for vast lands in producing traditional solar cell systems and consequently reduce maintenance costs.

After completing the design phase, the companies created a prototype in March 2010 and will begin the implementation phase in September 2011.

The tests will take place at Cadarache, South East of France. The site was chosen for its strategic position on the French electric grid and its proximity to a local hydroelectric facility, which will provide the water surface needed during the installation of the system. Operating on-site for a period of nine months, the system will be assessed in terms of performance and productivity through seasonal changes and various water levels. The research team members believe that by June 2012, they will have all the information required to enable the technology's entry into the market.

As leading photovoltaic companies struggle to find land on which to install solar power plants, the project team has identified the almost untouched potential of solar installations on water. The water basins on which the plants could be built are not natural reserves, tourist resorts or open sea; rather they are industrial water basins already in use for other purposes. By that, it is assured that the new solar plants will not have a negative impact on natural landscapes.

"It's a win-win situation," declared Dr. Kassel, "since there are many water reservoirs with energy, industrial or agricultural uses that are open for energy production use."

After solving the question of space, the team also took on the problem of cost. "It sounds magical to combine sun and water to produce electricity, but we also have to prove that it carries a financial logic for the long run," explained Dr. Kassel. The developers were able to reduce the costs linked to the implementation of the technology by two means. First, they reduced the quantity of solar cells used, thanks to a sun energy concentration system based on mirrors, while keeping steady the amount of power produced.

Secondly, the team used a creative cooling system using the water on which the solar panels are floating. Thanks to this efficient cooling method, the photovoltaic system can use silicon solar cells, which tend to experience problems linked to overheating and need to be cooled down in order to allow the system to work correctly, unlike more expensive, standard-type cells. The particular type of solar cell used also guarantees higher efficiency than the standard ones, achieving both reliability and cost reduction.

To make the technology efficient and ready to market, the system is designed in such a way that on a solar platform it is possible to assemble as many identical modules as needed for the power rating desired. Each module produces a standard amount of 200kW electricity, and more power can be achieved by simply adding more modules to the plant.

The team also worked on the environmental impact of the technology as a breathing surface through which oxygen can penetrate into water. This feature ensures that sufficient oxygen will sustain the underwater life of plants and animals.

"One of the implementation phase's goals is to closely monitor the possible effects of this new technology on the environment with the help of specialists" and "a preliminary check shows no detrimental environmental impact on water quality, flora or fauna. Our choices of materials were always made with this concern in mind," Dr. Kassel said.

Dr. Kassel sees another key benefit of this project. "Today, each country must consider the best resources it has in order to produce clean energy. For example: hydroelectric power is good where there are waterfalls, geothermic is productive for countries with thermal springs, and solar power is very efficient where there is sun. Our system could be of great use in places that are exposed to sun, but not necessarily have sufficient natural water. Even dry countries, such as Israel or the North African countries, have industrial waters that are not rain-dependent. This fact makes the floating solar power plant a reliable method for them to produce renewable energy."

- Paul Buckley
??EE Times

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