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Power Science

Flexible Floating Football-Field Sized Solar Panels (digitaltrends.com) 70

mdsolar writes: Offshore wind farms are growing in popularity as energy providers look for different ways of harvesting power from the sun without using valuable land resources. One unique idea being developed by engineers at Vienna University of Technology is a floating platform called a Heliofloat that would function as a sea-based solar power station.... an open-bottom, flexible float as large as a football field and covered from edge to edge with solar panels. Heliofloats can operate as standalone platforms for smaller operations with moderate energy requirements. Multiple heliofloats also can be connected together, forming a floating solar-harvesting power grid.
Each heliofloat is 100 meters long, reportedly cheap and easy to build, and may eventually be used to power desalination plants and biomass extraction.
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Flexible Floating Football-Field Sized Solar Panels

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  • by flopsquad ( 3518045 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @08:42AM (#52022281)

    Offshore wind farms are growing in popularity as energy providers look for different ways of harvesting power from the sun without using valuable land resources.

    Which is why coastal states are now experimenting with offshore nuclear reactors, to harness the geothermal energy derived from burning coal.

    • Offshore wind farms are growing in popularity as energy providers look for different ways of harvesting power from the sun without using valuable land resources.

      Which is why coastal states are now experimenting with offshore nuclear reactors, to harness the geothermal energy derived from burning coal.

      WAT? no wind powered cold fusion?

      • by Adriax ( 746043 )

        That's a complete myth. One of those power generation methods pulled directly from science fiction with no basis in reality.
        No one has ever been able to replicate the wind power experiments of the 80's.

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @08:43AM (#52022291)

    Desalination is an ideal use for fluctuating power sources, so long as you can find enough sheltered bays and estuaries to float them. Hawaii has a particular problem finding a carbon-free power source that will work on scattered islands, and has quite a few locations where these panels could be located.

    But the real potential for this idea would be the atolls of the south Pacific. These places rely on diesel generators now, and generally have a small number of users who have no need for an industrial baseload.

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @08:58AM (#52022355)
      Offshore wind is done only because of the favorable winds, not because of land costs or availability. Solar doesn't need to go offshore, it only adds to the cost. If you've ever been around ocean mist, you know how quickly it covers clear surfaces with deposits.
    • I think if you calculated the amount of water that could be desalinated from a football size array of solar panels, you would be surprised how little it it.
      • I'm not claiming that solar desalination would satisfy the needs of California, but that it would be a good usage match for intermediate-scale wind and solar as power sources. A number of California coastal towns are already building small desalination plants for their own water supply. Once the culturally influential coastal population gets used to desalinated water, the idea will spread inland. This will require a new generation of large baseload power plants. More nuclear jobs for Arizona!

        • There's an interesting economic issue with desalinization. It's kind of expensive. So you take a region that gets a reasonable amount of rain/snow fall a lot of the time, natural precipitation -- being a cheaper water source -- will be the preferred source. Except during droughts. When users will turn to the desalinization plant. (Boy are we glad we built that. We are very clever, no?) But water from the largely unused desalinization facility is going to be much more expensive than was projected beca

        • I'm not claiming that solar desalination would satisfy the needs of California, but that it would be a good usage match for intermediate-scale wind and solar as power sources. A number of California coastal towns are already building small desalination plants for their own water supply.

          Just be aware what it takes. I did a quick calc and for a town of 20,000 using water conservatively, it would take 6 football field size solar arrays to supply water for personal use. That doesn't include any other water needs, like fire fighting, industry, etc.

          • "I did a quick calc and for a town of 20,000 using water conservatively, it would take 6 football field size solar arrays to supply water for personal use..."

            Think of San Luis Obispo as a possible location. The solar arrays could be sited in the sheltered arm of Avila Beach, feeding a pipeline run up Hwy 101 into town.

      • I think if you calculated the amount of water that could be desalinated from a football size array of solar panels, you would be surprised how little it it.

        You mean, compared to simply building a solar distilling plant with the same floating plastic? Could it possibly be less efficient to collect solar energy at a penalty of (say) 90% and use that energy at an additional penalty to desalinate water no matter how you try to do it than it is to take close to 100% of the energy -- including the infrared and UV -- and simply heat up a black sheet with a thin skin of water over it and use cooler water circulated up from depth by a very small solar power to condens

        • If you assume 50 G day per person, that is only enough water for 200 people.
          • If you assume 50 G day per person, that is only enough water for 200 people.

            If we're still talking about that town of 20,000, 200 is exactly 1%, or all who matter. The rest of us looters can drink our bootstraps.

    • It's cute. I have to give it that. And no argument that desalinization should be a well matched load for intermittent power sources. (So is pumping water around the countryside -- which is done a lot in areas like the Western US.) However, I expect that this scheme will encounter a zillion problems if anyone tries to actually implement it. Everything from wind blown salt spray which is corrosive and also coats the solar cells with salt to breaking up in strong storms. Remaining upright isn't all that

      • Having a desalinization plant out in the open water is kind of stupid, IMHO. Its much easier to have the equipment on land, it doesn't take a lot of area, and piping in the water requires little infrastructure with minimal piping actually in the water. And you can more easily connect to land base power sources for backup if needed.
        • by phayes ( 202222 )

          Open water desalination plants would avoid a two major blocking points that no-one has mentioned up to now:
          - Land based plants in the South Pacific are difficult because they have very little unoccupied horizontal land.
          - Placing the plants near shore would kill the already fragile coral reefs.

    • You are right that sheltered waters have been sought. This rig sounds as though it is more seaworthy though. In the doldrums, a Swiss company was developing a solar island that had a single open floatation chamber. This effort seems to anticipate temperate waters with more storms.
  • This is excellent. I think they should combine a plant like this with wind turbines and wave plants as well. They won't hinder one another, and they could reuse a lot of infrastructure and space.
  • On the single picture the panels are mounted flat.

    That probably makes sense because of strong winds that would be dangerous for traditional tilted panels.

    On the other hand: if the panels where tilted to wards the sun, you could turn the whole platform to follow the sun very easy, two simple sails would be enough.

    Benefit would be: you get a decent increase of solar input not only by pointing towards the sun, but also by reflections from the sea.

    Everyone who ever got a sunburn close to the water knows the dif

  • When we see football fields or Olympic swimming pools used, it usually means we're attempting to peak the interest of American minds...

    Unfortunately, this unconventional measurement only works for the rest of the world's football pitch.

    • Well, all the gold ever mined on the world fits into two olympic swimming pools.

      Even if you don't know how big such a pool really is, you get the idea that the amount of gold is extremely low. And from that it is easy to conclude that gold based/backed currencies are completely impossible in our days. The gold in your SmartPhone would be worth thousands of dollars if mega trillions of commerce on the planet would be done with gold based currencies.

      I'm to lazy to look up how big a football field is and conve

      • An American football field is pretty close to the size of a typical soccer (as we Americans call "football") field. Roughly 109mx48m. Typically we don't use the full 109m length when soccer is played on the same field because running into the permanently mounted football goal posts by accident hurts.

    • As an American I can tell you the proper word is "pique" not "peak".
      • Or, I meant

        "it usually means we're attempting to peek into the interested American mind(s)..."

        I was thrown off because I just couldn't decide if I could place an asterisk after the plurality option without explaining the joke, which as we know, ruins the darn thing.

    • Because only Americans can win at the Olympics.
    • 'Football fields' is pretty universal. Even if we're talking about different sports.

      What is the area of Aussie rules? I bet it's 'close enough'. Likely a little bigger, but that's fair, some of it will be infested with venomous creatures.

      A better sign that this is directed at American minds is that it's a terrible idea. But then again, 'people are stupid' is also universal.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        My thought was that it's a sign that solar panels have gotten a lot cheaper. If they're cheap enough it might be a good idea...though not for every purpose. (I mean the floating solar generator plant, not the desalinization idea. I haven't thought that one through. It seems like a floating desalinization plant shouldn't use that much power, since it would probably be based on solar evaporation.)

        • Most of water on the Earth is salt water, salt + electronics = bad, salt + solar panels = bad (it will QUICKLY coat the panels and reduce their usefulness)

          I don't see how this could possibly work on any ocean as it would need major maintenance on top of the solar panel costs.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    With all the barnacles and sea weed/algae growth? Wouldn't they make the platform too heavy after a while?

  • by Framboise ( 521772 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @09:32AM (#52022479)

    A good place to put such floating panels are the hydropower reservoirs.
    Large surface is available, of little use, power lines and converters are nearby, and the wind is less strong at the bottom of these lake than on sea.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @09:33AM (#52022485) Journal

    It's a good thing wind and weather are never a challenge at sea!

  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @09:36AM (#52022501) Homepage Journal
    Floating solar is already common. Here is a large example. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energ... [ieee.org] Putting solar on reservoirs also helps to reduce evaporation and conserve water. The novelty here is the resilience to rough water using the modular open base float system. It is notable also that sea based solar could replace fossil oil for liquid fuel production since the Navy has already patented a way to turn seawater into fuel.
  • Now, an attack on the electrical grid will only require a small rowboat!!!
  • A chain off these recharging flow battery electrolyte could power a container based fast automated ocean freight system. Might allow Amazon to source more from direct overseas suppliers.
  • I can see the use case for offshore platforms using such a thing for energy, but other than that, what is the point?
    I mean, how is this better than putting a crap ton of cells in the desert where there is almost never clouds? Not to mention land based installations are really pretty simple.
    I am sure I am missing something, but I do not see why this is a worthwhile endeavor when there are other plans floating around like covering the Sahara with solar.

  • One question about this: How does everything living in the ocean feel about this? I don't need to be a marine biologist to understand that completely blocking the sun over huge areas of the ocean probably isn't good for it or the lifeforms living in it.
    • If you are too close to the shore, it should not matter. In the middle of the ocean, far from any land, there is no marine life depending on sun light.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday May 01, 2016 @12:36PM (#52023347)
    Hey, all you people who think it's such a great idea to build stuff to use all that open space on the ocean: Talk to a few boat owners first. You'll quickly come to understand that between wave action, salt water spray getting into every crack and crevice, corrosion, and biological fouling (both below from crustaceans and seaweed, and above from bird and seal droppings), you're constantly fighting to keep the damn thing from falling apart within a few years.

    Just save yourself a lot of heartache and build the thing on land, or even on top of freshwater reservoirs. Anywhere but the ocean. You don't put structures there unless you have to.
    • I think is it better to just spell out the acronym that boat stands for. Break out another thousand. Yup, these things mentioned means a lot of people will spend a lot of money maintaining their boats and it will seem like the more it is in use, the more it costs.

  • You can tell that Vienna University of Technology doesn't have a naval architecture department. The picture [tuwien.ac.at] with the caption "The platforms remain steady - even when the sea is rough" shows ripples that a blue-water sailor considers "dead calm". Also, the statement "When the air tanks are correctly dimensioned, the waves rise and fall under the Heliofloat without making any significant impact on the platform" can only be true for a limited range of wave frequencies. The deck will need significant stiffness,

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