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Floating solar panels could be destined for Castle Harbour

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The “Finger” at the airport, the site of the existing solar farm. The RA is seeking an expression of interest in building a floating photovoltaic solar farm (File photograph)

A private company could establish a new, ten-megawatt solar farm in Castle Harbour, consisting of floating photovoltaic panels, it has emerged.

A new report, dated December 16, 2022, outlines how investigations into floating solar power will proceed into the new year with a request for expression of interest to build, construct and manage a floating solar photovoltaic farm that could feed the Belco grid.

The RA will determine if there is any company with the appetite for such a project.

It would mean attaching solar panels to floating structures, possibly floating docks on either side (east and west) of the airport “Finger”.

Further, their objective is to gather sufficient information to evaluate the potential for such a project. They will then use the information as an input to the next version of the Integrated Resource Plan.

The just published Preliminary Report Work Plan and Budget for the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda for fiscal 2023-24 explains how the 2022-23 work plan featured a project seeking expressions of interest from potential providers for utility scale floating solar.

It states: “In collaboration with the relevant government departments, the RA anticipates receiving data that will support moving ahead with soliciting requests for proposals and selection processes.”

There would be initial environmental impact studies, economic analysis and, after public consultations, a request for proposals, and selection of a developer to pursue the determined course of action.

Directed by the Minister of Home Affairs as far back as November 2020 to consider and test the floating solar PV market as a more accurate assessment of the technology’s viability, the RA’s request for expression of interest is in line with that ministerial directive.

If realised, the facility would be separate from, but near to, the existing six-megawatt solar farm on the “Finger” at the LF Wade International Airport in St George’s, which became operational little more than a year ago.

In response to questions from The Royal Gazette, a government spokesperson said there was no government project related to floating solar at present, but such a project would require RA licensing and permissions from the Department of Planning and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, together with a lease from the Ministry of Public Works. No application has yet been made.

The spokesman said: “Consistent with the Integrated Resource Plan, the Regulatory Authority will publish a floating solar RFI in due course. Any queries concerning floating solar should be directed to the RA.”

The RA published an October statement: “The results from the RfEoI (Request for Expressions of Interest) will assist the RA in determining whether this is a viable (financial and technical) option for Bermuda.

“Safe, sustainable and reliable supply of electricity is a key component of a Bermuda energy plan, and floating solar may be another way to assist with a cleaner energy future.”

The RA says on its website that FPVs have been installed in the UK and a number of other countries, including offshore facilities in the Netherlands and China.

Apart from easier installation and deployment, the authority cites other advantages: “Recent studies found floating solar produces more electricity compared with rooftop or ground-mounted solar installations. This is due to the evaporative cooling effect of the water.

“While traditional panels are robust and can operate under high temperatures, their performance tends to fall as temperatures rise.

“Water helps cool down the solar equipment and a lower operating temperature for the FPVs allows for more electricity generation.”

But right now, FPV costs more and key challenges for Bermuda would include anchoring and mooring, with the wind and/or water levels.

Salt water means the racking system would need to be resistant to corrosion. With hurricanes and winter storms, structural designs would have to endure extreme conditions.

The RA reported: “Most floating solar installations are installed in reservoirs or lakes, but they can exist on the surfaces of oceans or seas if the conditions are right. Recently, an offshore array was tested in the Netherlands with wind and water pressures like being in the open sea and is said to withstand hurricane forces.”

The report concedes that more research is needed to understand the potential environmental impacts and education would be needed to engender wider adoption.

The existing farm was developed and constructed by Saturn Power Inc, a Canadian renewable energy developer, through its affiliate, Saturn Solar Bermuda 1 Ltd.

The Government spent $250,000 on consultants to assist with the procurement for the Finger project and around $650,000 on clearing the development site of vegetation and debris left over from US Naval Air Station operations and the occasional fire and rescue training.

The ministry spokesperson pointed out: “The rent, at $5,000/annum/acre, will cover the amount spent and generate a small additional revenue over the project’s lifespan (20 years less a day).

“In addition to monetary, there are other benefits to the Government, such as:

• Helping to satisfy the objectives of increasing renewable energy, thereby meeting the goals of the Integrated Resource Plan

• Although a long-term objective, helping to lower energy costs and reduce carbon emissions

• Grow our economy by increasing jobs in the renewable energy sector for construction of the project and ongoing equipment maintenance

“Lastly, the ministry can advise that this project was never developed or proposed to be part of the airport project or to support it. While the projects were built somewhat around the same time and co-located, they are entirely separate.

“The solar plant feeds the grid. It is not now, or has ever been connected to the airport. Saturn has a Power Purchase Agreement with Belco, not the airport. Belco buys the power and then sells it to its customers.”

A FPV solar farm similar to what may be established in Castle Harbour

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Published December 16, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated December 16, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Floating solar panels could be destined for Castle Harbour

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