Floating Solar to Generate 900% More Electricity Across APAC: IEEFA

Asia leads Europe in deploying floating solar, also known as floating photovoltaic (FPV), a new IEEFA report finds. Energy finance analysts Sara Jane Ahmed and Elrika Hamdi at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) note that power demand in the Philippines and Malaysia has dropped by as much as 16 percent during the COVID-19 lockdown, causing extreme stress to electricity grids due to excess power, although such falls have been smaller in Vietnam and Singapore where the pandemic measures have been less stringent to date.

“If the COVID-19 outbreak is to teach one lesson, it would be that utility companies need agile operations, not outdated power stations that burn coal 24/7 and cannot respond quickly to sudden changes or outages,” said Ahmed.

“Our research shows more and more ASEAN countries are building solar farms that float on rivers, dams, lakes and reservoirs – even the sea – to produce clean electricity at prices that can compete with power from polluting coal-fired plants.”

Solar farms are best when installed near hydropower facilities and able to piggyback existing connections to electricity grids, according to the report. Floating solar power can also balance out the peaks and troughs of consumer demand in complex electricity systems.

“The combination of floating solar and hydro on existing dams and reservoirs trumps the economics of adding new baseload coal-fired power plants on-grid systems such as the Java-Bali network that already have generation overcapacity,” said Hamdi.

Floating solar installations have shown they can withstand typhoons, powerful waves, and winds gusting up to 170 kilometres an hour, with offshore FPV now being tested by manufacturers.

“Further, water-borne solar installations are much quicker to build than fossil-fuelled power stations and can be ready in a matter of months, while coal, gas, hydro generators take up to three years to build, and nuclear plants take much longer,” adds Hamdi.

The first FPV system was built in 2007 in Aichi, Japan, while China is the largest FPV player. At the end of 2018, both Japan and China had a combined FPV installed capacity of 1.3 GW. Vietnam has installed 47 MW of FPV, and most recently, India’s largest power generation firm, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), confirmed it has 200 MW of FPV under development across four sites, making it one of the largest developers in the world.

Floating Solar IEEFA

Up to 2019, the total installed capacity of FPVs among ASEAN countries was mostly below 1 MW. This has changed drastically with at least five countries recently announcing large-scale floating solar plans:

Singapore: in February 2019, Singapore’s Cleantech Solar announced the completion of a 9.8 MW solar installation that includes a mix of rooftop solar and 2.8 MW of FPV on a water reservoir to power Cambodian cement manufacturer Chip Mong Insee Cement Corporation (CMIC). Singapore’s water authority, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) procured 50 MW of FPV on the Tengeh Reservoir in July 2019, with a targeted operational date of 2021. PUB is also in the process of implementing two smaller 1.5 MW FPV systems on the Bedok and Lower Seletar reservoirs.

Thailand: In June 2019, Thailand’s EGAT issued an invitation for 55.5 MW of FPV on the Sirindhorn Dam, co-located with the existing 12 MW Sirindhorn Hydropower Plant. Thailand’s EGAT is also planning for a second FPV with a capacity of 24 MW on the Ubol Ratana Dam. Then in January 2020, a consortium comprised of Thailand’s B Grimm Power Plc and Energy China was awarded a contract to build 45MW of FPV on the Sirindhorn Dam by EGAT.

Malaysia: In August 2019, Malaysia’s Pestech entered a partnership with China’s inverter maker Sungrow to jointly develop FPV solutions in the region, while in October 2019 Chinese solar manufacturer Risen Energy Co. Ltd secured a contract to supply 150 MW of PV modules to power a floating PV park.

Vietnam: In October 2019, Vietnam’s Da Nhim–Ham Thuan–Da Mi (DHD), a subsidiary of national utility EVN which owns and operates hydro plants, commissioned 47.5 MW of FPV, with a targeted increase of 330 MW more in an area where 1MW alone may be able to light 165 homes.

Philippines: In October 2019, Philippines’ Meralco Powergen Corp, a subsidiary of the country’s largest utility company, announced its plans to build 110 MW of FPV on Laguna Lake.

Indonesia: In January 2020, Indonesia’s state-owned PLN utility company signed an FPV deal with UAE’s Masdar for a targeted 145 MW.

For Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, the decision to install FPVs is based primarily on the economics of existing grid infrastructure and the issue of land scarcity.

“Focusing on the economics of generation assets in isolation does not make sense because of the need to invest in transmission lines. A grid-level solution, considering the cost of generation plus transmission requirements, is key,” adds Ahmed.

“The geography and demographics of ASEAN present a distinctive opportunity for floating solar,” concludes Hamdi.

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