These Floating Solar Panels Could be a Major Game-Changer

Jeff Siegel

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted August 14, 2023

Check out this headline …


Pretty compelling, yes?

It certainly got me to click the link.

After all, we know that the possibility of ‘limitless’ energy is not impossible.  

Theoretically, there are many ways we could produce limitless energy.  But in a non-theoretical world (i.e. – the real world), the devil is always in the details.

Last week, we got a look at a new report from the Australian National University, School of Engineering that suggested some regions on the equator could house floating solar panels that could generate up to 1 million TWh per year.  According to researchers, this is about five times more energy than required for a “full decarbonized global economy supporting 10 billion affluent people.”

The reason the equator would be ideal for these  floating solar panels is that the waters on the equator are not burdened by large waves or strong winds.  In fact, it’s quite uncommon for tropical storms to even hit these regions. 

Indonesia was of particular interest as that region has about 54,000 square miles of seascape that is suitable for floating solar panels.  So theoretically, offshore solar panels could generate more than the country’s current electricity production.  But in order for that to happen, 9,653 square miles of offshore solar panels – connected to the grid – would be required.

This is a pretty lofty goal for a country where about 62% of the country is powered by coal.  Which makes sense, as Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coal in the world.  It’s also Southeast Asia’s largest gas supplier.

So any attempts to add offshore solar to the mix could only come as a result of offshore solar having a manufacturing, installation and operational cost advantage, which it won’t. Or if the World Bank ponies up some cash. And in that case, it wouldn’t likely be enough to build 9,653 square miles of offshore solar.

While offshore solar may be geographically ideal for Indonesia, it won’t be financially ideal.  And for that reason, I wouldn’t put much hope in the idea that Indonesia will embrace offshore solar.  But the offshore solar market is still viable where energy demand remains strong and coal and gas aren’t cheap and abundant. 

Take China, for instance, where more than 11 gigawatts of offshore solar is being built in Shandong – the industrial hub of south Beijing.  That project will go live in 2025.  Ultimately, 42 gigawatts will be constructed there.  To put that in perspective, that’s about twice as much as the power generating capacity of Finland. 

Overall, the offshore solar market is expected to grow from $2.55 billion in 2021 to $10.09 billion in 2030.  This represents a compound annual growth rate of 16.5%.  So indeed, there is opportunity here.

Interestingly, I got to see a floating solar farm while I was in Thailand.  I wasn’t allowed to take pictures due to security measures, but I did find this Bloomberg video that highlighted the project.  It’s absolutely fascinating and worth a look.  You can check it out here:

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