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Floating solar needs political power

Floating solar power generation offers a host of advantages over traditional solar, but its roll-out in Australia hinges heavily on water utilities being able to secure political buy-in to make the projects happen.

That’s the lesson learnt by South Australia’s Northern Area Council, which last year pioneered floating solar in this country with the installation the first stage 4MW system on a wastewater facility reservoir in Jamestown.

But Northern Area Council Chief Executive Officer Colin Byles said the issue was getting political buy-in.

“One of the major challenges we faced was getting elected members to think outside of the square of normal activities,” he said.

“Part of that two-year planning process was explaining over and over again what the advantages were, the problems that could be or that weren’t there.

“For a rural council to agree to this was a huge thing. They’re very conservative…but when you’re the first and there’s no template to see how it all works, you want to make sure there aren’t any unforeseen costs.”

That reticence extended to large nearby energy users that the council had hoped to sell its excess energy to, Byles said.

The Jamestown system – made up of 3500 photovoltaic panels floating atop 276 rafts – is billed as being able to produce up to 57% more power than equivalent land-based systems, thanks to the water cooling the panels and boosting their efficiency at high temperatures.

It was designed and built by Sydney-based Infratech, and features a centralised tracking system, as well as a range of sensors to aid with water quality monitoring.

Infratech Director Felicia Whiting said their system was based on a power-purchase agreement, with customers purchasing only the energy supplied, not the equipment.

“With a power-purchase agreement, we can assure we can design and utilise the infrastructure to their requirements,” she said.

“We’re invested in the infrastructure, so if it doesn’t generate power, we don’t get paid.”

But Infratech’s system is not the only one vying for traction in Australia.

Suntrix Commercial is the Australian distributor for pioneers Ciel et Terre’s Hydrelio system, which Suntrix Chief Business Officer Geoff Fussell describes as analogous to a Lego set.

“It’s modular and quickly goes together so you can configure it into any shape you like,” he said.

“You can tailor it to the shape of the waterway and you can expand it as required. If you want to shift it, you can pull it apart and remove it. It has so much flexibility in the scalability of it – that’s the advantage of the product.”

No tools or heavy machinery are required to assemble the Hydrelio system, which is made of 100% recyclable materials.

Meanwhile, Hydrosun and its founder Soren Lunoe are instead pushing a low-cost, Australian-made solution.

Hydrosun’s system does away with sun-tracking and even metal, relying instead on polypipe.

“I’m trying to make it as hard as possible for other people to come up with a cheaper solution by reducing the materials…the polypipe is squeezed and bent into place (and) only one joint is welded,” Lunoe said. “The cost is as low as we can go.”

For more on floating solar power, see the full feature in the August 2016 edition of Current magazine.