Giant offshore solar farm to be built by the Dutch

The Netherlands will construct an offshore solar farm, which is expected to start providing power in three years, as the country tries to boost its renewable credentials.

The facility will replace a pre-existing offshore seaweed farm in the North Sea and comes at a critical time for the Netherlands, which is struggling to curb fossil fuel use and meet greenhouse gas emission targets after years of underinvestment in renewable energy sources.

Oceans of Energy, the consortium behind the project, said that facilities such as this could be a solution for places where there are no means to generate clean energy on land.

The consortium comprises energy producers, scientists and researchers who plan to ultimately operate 2,500 square metres of floating solar panels by 2021.

They will start with a pilot next year which will have €1.2m (£1m) in government funding and will operate 30 square metres of panels from this summer. It will test equipment, weather conditions, environmental impact and energy output.

According to the firm’s CEO Allard van Hoeken, solar farms at sea pose major challenges, which can be conquered by putting together the experience of Dutch knowledge institutions and offshore industry companies.

Utrecht University will examine energy production at the offshore prototype, located around 15km off the coast of Dutch city of The Hague at a testing zone known as the North Sea Farm.

“In addition to removing the problem of a land shortage, there are several other benefits to building at sea, similar to those in wind energy,” said solar energy expert Wilfried van Sark at Utrecht University, who is involved in the project.

“There is more sun at sea and there is the added benefit of a cooling system for the panels, which boosts output by up to 15 per cent,” he said.

If successful, there is plenty of space to expand the farm, unlike on the overcrowded Dutch mainland where there has been public opposition to wind turbines.

The panels will be more rugged than ordinary onshore models to account for the harsher weather conditions and tidal shifts at sea, Van Sark said.

The panels will be moored between existing wind turbines and connected to the same cables, transporting energy efficiently to end users.

Van Hoeken said he expects offshore solar energy to eventually be cheaper than offshore wind and mainland power sources, due mainly to a lack of land costs.

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