Singapore providing test-bed for effectiveness of floating solar

Singapore providing test-bed for effectiveness of floating solar

Thomas Reindl, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of SERIS and Principal Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore (front), giving me and my ADB colleagues a tour of the 1-hectare facility at the Tengeh Reservoir in Tuas, Singapore, in late October.

By Bambang Susantono

Singapore is home to the world’s largest test-bed for a floating solar photo voltaic power generation system, the results of which will be watched keenly by ADB and many others.

One of the commitments of ADB under its corporate Strategy 2030 is to promote the use of advanced technologies across its operations to help address Asia and Pacific’s challenges. In this respect the Tengeh Reservoir in Tuas, Singapore, home to the world’s largest test-bed for a floating solar photo voltaic (PV) power generation system, is of great interest at a corporate level. At a personal level, unique infrastructure approaches never cease to fascinate me and I welcomed the opportunity to  see the facility during a recent business trip to Singapore.

The installation comprises 10 different solar PV systems from several countries with a total capacity of about 1 megawatt (MW)-peak. Its objectives are two-fold. First, it seeks to compare the performance of a floating solar PV against a land-based installation—in this case a nearby 20 kilowatt-peak rooftop system. Theoretically, the cooling effect of the water in the reservoir should have a positive effect on the energy yield of the floating solar PV installation. Second, the project will compare the performance of the 10 different floating solar PV configurations against one another.

More than 100 sensors continuously monitor the performance of each system in real time. After a period of evaluation, the two best-performing floating solar PV systems will be scaled up to a larger 2 MW-peak capacity installation for further testing.

  ADB strongly advocates innovative power generation

Hard data on the actual performance of new technologies, like floating solar PV, are difficult to come by and are rarely shared. Having seen this impressive facility at first hand, I will be keen to learn about the  two configurations that are selected and the reason for their  superior performance compared to the rest. I would also like to know the degree to which the advantages identified by SERIS are amplified at a utility scale. I place more than just simply curiosity for such information.

ADB strongly advocates  innovative solar power generation. In this regard, ADB recently approved an investment in a 47.5 megawatt floating solar PV installation on the reservoir built for the existing 175 MW Da Mi hydro power plant in Viet Nam. The financing—which includes an ADB Private Sector loan of $20 million, will catalyze the first large-scale floating solar photovoltaic in the country. ADB’s participation in the project will ensure compliance with rigorous environmental and social safeguard standards. ADB also adds value by mobilizing a financing package that makes the 47.5 MW floating solar project commercially viable.

The project will significantly increase Viet Nam’s solar generation capacity by almost sevenfold from 7MW to 54.5MW. Additional facilities include a floating central inverter, a grounded substation, and a new 3.5-kilometer 110-kilovolt transmission line to connect with the national grid.

ADB’s project is our first large-scale private sector floating solar project. This builds on learning and experience from previous ground-mounted solar projects and benefits from ADB's careful due diligence. ADB can enhance its mechanism of tracking the performance of new approaches such as the one at Singapore’s Tengah facility and incorporate learnings in the design of investments. This will significantly increase the appetite for and effectiveness of such innovations within our develoing member countries.  Further this approach will add scale to our work in addressing the development challenges that face our region.

  A 3D approach — deploy, demonstrate, disseminate —can lead to a more rapid roll-out of technology

ADB is uniquely positioned to demonstrate successes through such innovative pilots  given  our multisector operations and presence in developing Asia for more than 5 decades. Further, this rich experience also deepens our understanding of problems that can no longer be addressed by traditional measures.  

In this regard ADB would benefit from  what I call the “3D” approach — deploy, demonstrate, and disseminate. Framing the challenges and identifying technical solutions are important first steps. However, appropriate deployment mechanisms are equally important for these approaches to be effective. More often than not, the most effective route requires working hand-in-hand with the private sector, as with our project in Viet Nam. Our  country assessments provide good avenues to  gauge the interest of  local companies and their capabilities of  deploying these technologies by themselves. If not, let us step in and enable them to do so. Thereafter, it is our equal responsibility to  widely share the experience and learning amongst multiple stakeholders at multiple levels for scale.

Besides Viet Nam, we have such opportunities in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. A regional TA has approved to pilot floating solar PV technology in these three countries, up to 100kW each, while developing business models and supporting the countries in building their expertise. The TA will benefit the region by sharing knowledge and learning from the implementation of pilot projects in different water environments. Our operations departments are developing other projects to demonstrate and deploy floating solar PV technologies in existing hydropower reservoirs and lakes in the region. If we disseminate the insights we gather to local solar PV companies and financing institutions,  together with reassurance about the reliability and effectiveness of these systems, then we can expect a more rapid roll-out of this technology in the coming decade.

We should embrace our role as technology catalysts. And be the best at it.