Picture a pristine white-sand beach, surrounded by a clear-blue turquoise sea, and add a few palm trees. The typical description of a tropical island. Ever wondered how electricity is generated on these little paradise lands? Diesel generators, for the most part. “Diesel generators are the primary source of power supply in places without connection to the central power grid” confirms a study by the Reiner Lemoine Institute.
However, this energy source has many downsides. It is expensive, as most of these tropical islands have to import the diesel. In the Maldives, for example, according to their “Island Electricity Data Book 2017”, the country imported 537,060 metric ton of fuel (including 445,036 metric ton of diesel), which is the equivalent of one fifth of their gross domestic product. Another big issue is the volatility of prices, experts often referring to the oil market as “a rollercoaster”. And last but not least, diesel is highly polluting.
So what are the alternatives for cheap, reliable and sustainable electricity on remote tropical islands? With low winds and small waves, wind turbines and wave energy aren’t very effective. Rooftop solar panels aren’t suited for tropical buildings and solar farms are not an option as available space is a critical challenge on these islands.
As he was travelling for business to the Maldives, Martin Putschek had an idea: “We wanted to bring solar energy to places where there is no space on land for the panels. So we put them on the seawater”. That’s how SolarSea was invented, the world’s first floating solar solution for the sea.
This solution consists of separate floating platforms of 196m2. Each platform is equipped with 25 kW of marine grade solar panels and “can survive waves of tropical shallow water lagoons, as well as the currents, tides, extreme UV, humidity and is corrosion-proof” as stated on their website. One SolarSea unit can provide electricity for 25 households, preventing the use of 12’000 liters of diesel.
The best part is that these offshore solar panels are even more productive than their onland counterparts. Due to the cooling effect of water, the light reflections from the water surface, and the fact that there is no shadow on them, the floating solar panels are 10% more efficient than rooftop panels. As for the price, the electricity provided through SolarSea’s underwater cables is 50% cheaper than diesel-generated electricity.
Swimsol, the parent company developing SolarSea, has several projects running in the Maldives already. In an interview with Inhabitat, Martin declared: “if you install one kilowatt of solar, so that’s four panels, you can save 400 liters of diesel a year. So 100 kilowatts would be 40,000 liters; one megawatt would be 400,000 liters. The point is, it makes sense to go big”. The company is therefore looking to expand its solution to other tropical islands thanks to funding and strategic partnerships (get in touch with Swimsol).