SeaVolt, a collaboration of Tractebel, DEME, and Jan De Nul, is preparing for its first floating solar energy test platform to be installed offshore. The platform flotation system is currently located in the port of Ostend, on the Belgian North Sea coast, where main contractor Equans is finalising assembly. The test platform will be the first installation in the Belgian North Sea aimed at the large-scale development of offshore solar energy and is scheduled to be towed offshore, anchored, and put into operation to gather data for at least a year, starting in August.

SeaVolt is said to be an innovative floating offshore photovoltaic technology specifically tailored for rough sea conditions, and is claimed to have unlimited potential for offshore solar. SeaVolt has developed a concept specifically tailored for deployment in rough seas, which with its modular design, is considered to make it highly suitable for installation as a complement to offshore wind farms.

Under the framework of the Blue Cluster funded research project MPVAQUA and additional support from the federal government via BELSPO, the partners within SeaVolt, together with Ghent University (UGENT), is ready to conduct a year-round open-sea testing programme in the POM-West Vlaanderen owned ‘Blue Accelerator offshore test zone’. The proof-of-concept installation will gather crucial data on the impact of waves, rain and salt sprays on various solar panels with different PV panel configurations. In addition, the impact of varying inclinations, caused by waves and wind, on the energy output will be closely monitored. The test aims to determine the level of protection required to shield the solar panels from seawater and bird droppings.

Amongst the materials suitable for this floating technology, SeaVolt has chosen to use a light-weight carbon fibre material in the test installation. This material presents potential benefits for offshore use, however is not often been used to date in such harsh marine conditions.

Optical embedded fibres and sensors attached to the structure will assess if the structural integrity (vibrations/fatigue) of the material is in line with the numerical models and results obtained from the ocean wave tank and wind tunnel tests. Since the floating structure and solar panels are driving the cost, these measurements are indispensable for further financial assessment.

In addition to technical tests, the SeaVolt test installation will also address ecological aspects. Various materials will be evaluated based on prevention of adverse effects on the marine environment. The test results will determine the selection of materials for further development.

Floating laboratory

This crucial test is not to be seen as a first prototype of the full scale. It is rather a laboratory to gain knowledge and push the technological development further.

To ensure further development, Seavolt is preparing for a large-scale demonstration project within an offshore wind farm. As such the potential of integrating offshore floating solar with an offshore windfarm will be further assessed. If all goes well, large scale offshore solar energy is expected to become a reality and in this case, Seavolt hopes to secure a significant share in this new development of the already strong Belgian offshore sector.