Floating Photovoltaic Power Plants in Germany

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Floating photovoltaic power plants can contribute to the diversification of renewable energy without taking up any land. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, RWE Renewables and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) are collaborating to further develop this innovative technology with other partners. In the joint research project PV2Float, the associates will test several floating PV systems with different structure designs under real conditions over three years. Currently, there is an evaluation ongoing for implementation of a suitable open pit lake.

On open water surfaces, floating PV systems are installed. PV system offers prospective for climate protection, renewable power generation, and this technology is new and has not been widely adopted as of now. These PV modules are set up on floats or membranes, which are placed on bodies of still open water and on the sea in contrast to conventional ground-mounted systems. There are about 500 open pit lakes, leftover from lignite open cast mining, in Germany. The potential of these open pit lakes (from a technical viewpoint) in the opinion of Fraunhofer ISE, is in the mid double-digit gigawatt range.

Thus, floating PV opens up new applications for these former mines in locations such as Lusatia (east of Germany). This is financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The goal of the PV2Float project, is to develop the potential of this technology. The power plants installed and tested in this project form an important basis for the research work, with which a precise analysis of the technical requirements, economic efficiency and the ecological effects of floating PV power plants in Germany will be carried out. How widely this technology is accepted, will also be investigated.

The project partner RWE will carry out a comprehensive potential analysis of the German and international market for floating PV apart from choosing the location of the site. RWE has significant years of experience in the field of construction and operation of ground-mounted PV plants and it is one of the world’s biggest renewable energy companies. The company is currently implementing a floating PV project in the Netherlands.  

Senior Manager Solar Power at RWE renewables, Thorsten Miltkau, said: “We see great potential for floating PV worldwide. With this research project, we want to deepen our knowledge of the technical possibilities of floating PV systems, such as scalability and energy yield, and transfer the findings to commercial projects.”

The demonstration PV plant is to be designed and built together with Volta Solar. Four floating PV installations and a reference installation on land with a total power of around 150 kilowatts are planned. The project is also supported by Heckert Solar, a solar module manufacturer in Chemnitz, with PV module concepts.

VDE Renewables is evaluating the developed power plant concepts to ensure that they comply with standards and electrical safety. Once the plants are constructed, they will inspect again. Fraunhofer ISE will investigate the regulatory framework for floating PV plants and is also developing a procedure for the participation of local stakeholders. The institute will perform durability tests on the individual system components, further develop PV modules as well as simulation models on energy yield, adapting them to meet the particular requirements of floating applications, where necessary. The researchers at Fraunhofer ISE will also investigate the economic viability of floating PV.

Project head at Fraunhofer ISE, Stefan Wieland, says, “Bodies of water put special demands on the design, material, environmental compatibility and operational management of floating PV power plants. In the project, these aspects are investigated for large floating PV plants.”

“The ecological compatibility of floating PV systems is a basic prerequisite for approval and authorization. In the research project PV2Float, we will deepen our knowledge on the ecological effects that these systems may have on bodies of water,” said Dr. Dieter Leßmann, Faculty of Water Protection at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg.

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