Solar power is by far the most deployed and adopted renewable energy production today. The worldwide installed capacity has reached 227 GW in 2015 – according to the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power System Program’s (IEA PVPS) newly published Snapshot of Global Photovoltaic Markets 2015(1). While PV panels prices are drastically decreasing these last years the profitability in this business is getting lower and as a consequence many solar panel manufacturers have recently left the industry. Such a bleak perspective has lead to the emergence of innovative ideas in order to boost this industry while meeting other clients specific needs.
Floating solar Plants (FSP) is one of these new technologies which relative market was recently valued at $3.89 million in 2014(2). Driven by several innovative startups, the business growth is expected to meet a CAGR* of 116.1% over the period 2015 – 2020 according to the PSMarket research(3). The existing technology does not fit to marine environment constraints due to the high corrosion and sea events issues and hence, existing projects are installed in hydro plants, water reservoirs or lakes.
This article shows up the countries currently developing this technology, the major players (in the market) with their relative positioning and the current existing technologies.
1. Why should we use floating solar technology today? And thus how could we define a FSP potential market?
From a technical point of view floating solar systems are mainly composed of 4 main parts with respectively different and own challenges
A tracking system could be used in order to increase the panel load and hence boost the relative capacity factor.
Floating technology provides indeed tailored solutions to meet intrinsic issues, in comparison to the ground mounted solution, as well as extrinsic issues which such as implementation.
- Overall, we can focus on two main intrinsic issues:
- Panels decreasing efficiency curve depending on temperature:
ground mounted Solar panels technology presents around 10 % to 15% efficiency loss due to extreme high (sun/light) exposure especially in summer – when we expect the most of produced energy actually. Existing cooling systems require high OPEX and are consequently not profitable. Therefore, installing solar panels directly on water, as a potential cooling source, could be a solution for overheat issues on panels.
- Spaces availability for ground mounted solar plants: in some countries available lands are rare and thus expensive. The exploitation of existing reservoirs and lakes could be more profitable.
- On the other hand, floating solar technology could provide with solutions to usual problems in reservoirs (extrinsic issues):
- Water evaporation in large water reservoirs: in hot countries water evaporation especially in large reservoirs countries the issue is a real issue. Installing panels should allow retaining maximum of water while increasing efficiency.
- Algae growth in water reservoirs: covering the reservoir with panels could discourage growth of the algae and hence decrease the maintenance costs.
- Use the large water reservoirs available surface to generate much more energy: this is the case of hydro plants.
Based on these criteria and on a strategic level, two main potential market-entering categories could be defined:
- Target customer, Niche market (individual case): for this scenario, the target is a specific case of an hydro plant or a reservoir. In this case, installing floating panels would meet rather the extrinsic issues (listed before) or simply use the available space to produce much more power (the case of a hydro plant for example). Niche markets could be assigned to countries with:
- No specific politic or financial incentive
- No issues concerning available places
- Target market: for this scenario, the targets are mostly countries which combine 2 of these criteria:
- Limited space for large solar plants deployment
- Solar favorable politic strategy (target installed capacity)
- Grid availability near spaces where we expect to install the floating panels
In this case, a massive floating panels deployment is expected.
2. What are the most proactive countries in the development of this technology?
Many countries are actually interested in the Floating solar technology and are currently proactive in developing projects worldwide. Some countries, such as Taiwan give financial incentives specifically for floating projects which offers a FiT** of TWD ***4.94/kWh (US$ 0.157) largely higher than the one allocated to ground-mounted projects of TWD 4.547/kWh(4). Others have already a favorable politic strategy regarding floating projects such as Indian government who has already set floating solar installed capacity targets (5).
According the last scenarios described before, floating solar projects could be sorted in two main categories:
- Market target: this is obviously the case of Japan, Singapore, UK (London)and India which have actually limited space to install large ground mounted PV panels. Several projects are emerging in these countries; the biggest one is expected in Japan with 13.7 MWp**** of installed capacity.
- Customer target: some of these projects are installed on a hydro plant, typically in Brazil and Chile.
Major current and expected projects are listed on the map below. Floating solar projects are mostly located in Asia with almost 78% of the expected worldwide installed capacity.
(1) Early mass adopters (2) Niche markets (3) Mega Watt Peak
Figure 1: Asia shows high potential for mass FS market growth with 78% of expected worldwide installed capacity- Europe, North and Latin America still developing pilot farms and expected to be niche markets for this technology
3. Who are the main players and their relative market positioning? What are the main existing technologies today? And what are the key points for each technology?
This new technology is mainly developed by innovative startups. Among the market leaders today, 3 main players stand out from the crowd on the first stage:
- Ciel et Terre: a French startup with currently 35 projects around the world mainly in Japan and UK.
- Solaris Synergy: an Israeli startup, which is developing an innovative floater prototype in partnership with EDF.
- Sungency: an Australian startup developing floating solar technology in partnership with Tata Power, the giant Indian utility.
* Logarithmic scale
Figure 2 : Ciel et Terre is leading the market with 35 projects worldwide and a dispersed strategy
* Compound Annual Growth Rate
** Feed in Tariff
*** Taiwan dollar
**** Méga Watt Peak