The world’s first large scale hybrid hydro-floating solar power plant

Sep 13 , 2021

A Norwegian consortium led by Scatec is planning to build a hybrid hydropower-floating PV plant at an unspecified location in West Africa. Building both facilities simultaneously will help its developers define a series of parameters for proper sizing, optimization and design, and set a benchmark for future projects of this kind.

A floating PV system built by Ocean Sun.

Image: Ocean Sun

The Norwegian government has decided to support, with NOK79 million ($9.1 million), a research project led by Norway-based renewable energy developer Scatec and aimed at developing a large scale, hybrid hydro and floating solar power plant at an undisclosed location in West Africa.

The Norwegian consortium includes floating PV specialist Ocean Sun, independent research organization Sintef, software provider Prediktor, the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), and Norwegian solar industry body the Solenergiklyngen.

“[A] Scatec power plant will be planned, for hybrid hydropower and floating solar right from the beginning, as a first in the world,” Ocean Sun CEO Børge Bjørneklett told pv magazine. “Normally, floating solar power is an add-on to existing hydropower plants but this project will be developed specifically as a greenfield combo plant with overall low LCOE. PV and hydropower are complementary on a seasonal basis and hydropower can convert intermittent PV into higher-value steady power.”

The project includes the development of a platform for planning, scaling, and optimizing the operation of hybrid power plants. According to Bjørneklett, the optimization of the two power-generating elements gives benefits for water remediation technology and the dimensioning of the reservoir and the basin, as well as for defining early production levels from the solar plant during the construction phase. The project will also explore adaptations of the Ocean Sun system for amphibious use during the gradual filling of the reservoir.”

According to him, reduced water evaporation and PV cooling effects will be of key importance in the project. “Together with Prediktor and internet-of-things experts, the consortium will develop novel control mechanisms for the optimization and fine-tuning of the hybrid power [plant's] production,” the CEO stated.

No more technical or financial details of the project were revealed.

Scatec recently acquired the SN Power hydropower operator belonging to Norwegian state-owned private equity business Norfund. SN Power has 2.5 GW of hydro assets in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. “Hydropower and solar PV are complementary technologies, resulting in new project opportunities, for instance floating solar on hydro reservoirs,” said Scatec Solar CEO Raymond Carlsen in October 2020, when the operation was finalized. “With this transaction, we see great potential in broader project origination and geographical expansion into growth markets in South East Asia and sub-Sahara[n] Africa.”

Ocean Sun has developed an innovative design for floating PV projects at near-shore locations and in semi-sheltered waters. The patented system consists of PV modules on floating membranes, inside buoyancy rings anchored to the seabed. with four mooring points and 12 lines.

Sintef recently unveiled a special floating structure that Norwegian energy company Equinor wants to deploy in offshore waters. The structure is built with an anchoring system that is claimed to give the installation enough freedom to cope with the waves.

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EPA-tracked RE-Powering programs sit on landfills and other contaminated lands. Image: EPA

Most of the sites are either municipally or privately owned, with about 1.5 GW of the 1.8 GW installed capacity falling under those ownership structures. Two-thirds of the projects sell power back to the grid, and 22% of the tracked sites are community solar projects. Nearly 70% of these facilities offer 1 MW or more of capacity.

Massachusetts currently leads the field with 30% of the country’s landfill projects. EPA said that a favorable policy climate is important to supporting brownfield sites. Massachusetts’ SMART Program offers enhanced incentives for landfill and brownfield development and built a fast-track for the approval process of these projects, hence the state’s leadership in this arena.

New Jersey and Illinois have also made strides in policy and utility involvement, said the EPA. One of the largest is the 50 MW Sunnyside solar facility, planned to top a 240-acre Houston landfill and enter service by the end of 2022. Sunnyside’s procurement came as a result of the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Typically, installers are not allowed to penetrate the landfill’s surface, and mounting hardware and foundational structures must be adaptable and lighter than in a conventional ground-mount design. For example, mounting supplier Solar FlexRack providedcast-in-place racks for a community solar landfill development south of Provo, Utah. The mounting system used lighter ballasts with internal bracing and fewer components than a typical solar mount.

Solar FlexRack’s Series B Cast-In-Place ballast mounting system Image: SolarFlexRack

Lighter mounts, less expensive land, and environmentally minded policy are all drivers that can push costs down for solar landfills. 

Highway PV

Highway right-of-way (ROW) areas offer unique qualities that lend themselves to solar installations. For example, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) explained that ROW areas offer ease of access to the adjacent solar facilities and transmission lines often follow highway alignments.  What’s more, ROWs have well-maintained vegetation and few trees or other shading elements.

The CDOT study noted a number of potential safety and quality issues with ROW PV. The top concerns included snow drift and deposition, panel glint and glare, water quality management issues, driver safety in collisions, and safe access for maintenance.

As a result of the study, CDOT created a series of tools for properly siting solar projects. The tools included glint and glare hazard models, array siting criteria, an impact matrix and mitigation strategies.

Highway ROW solar has been deployed in Europe for more than 30 years, and innovations continue to be introduced. For example, a Belgian consortium created two testing facilities to develop PV-equipped noise barriers for use where land and policy constraints make ground-mounted solar plants nearly impossible to install. 

The dual-use structure must first function as a sound barrier, which may limit the accompanying PV production. Modules are covered with a transparent sound dampening layer that the researchers said cut production by about 30%.

In the United States, the land area available for ROW installations can be tight and is generally best left for highway interchanges and exits, according to a study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Energy Group.

The study found that most states have more than 200 miles of suitable interstate frontage available. That amounts to between 440 and 6,600 acres of preferable install site area per state. Each state had an identified potential of anywhere from 127 to 1,814 GWh per year, with Texas sitting in the top spot. California and Illinois ranked second and third in potential.

The Texas researchers identified a need for GIS data to better support the development of ROW solar. Iowa was the only state included in the that had completed detailed highway interchange profiles to facilitate the transition to solar site planning.

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