Here in America we've got several vast deserts that are perfect for installing gigantic solar thermal power plants. But not every country has so much free space. At the end of the day, most of the sun's light hits the oceans, because most of the Earth is ocean, but the United Arab Emirates has just contracted with a Swiss firm, CSEM, to purchase a floating solar island.
The island, which will basically float on a ring-shaped raft, was conceptualized a while ago by CSEM, but until now they haven't found any buyers. The prototype being comissioned by the UAE will first be tested in a nearby desert before the concept is moved onto the ocean.
It's one-tenth the size of the concept pictured above, only costing $5M and about 100 meters wide with a peak power generation of roughly 1 megawatt. The plant will produce energy by concentrating solar power onto pipes containing water. The water will boil, and be used to spin turbines. Once shipped off-shore, the islands could be used to convert seawater to hydrogen, allowing them to be autonomous and untethered to the shore. They hydrogen could be picked up by barges, instead of having to transport the electricity to shore via a physical connection.
This pilot project is being designed mostly to test the feasibility of the solar islands; CSEM says that the islands so far look like they will be cost-effective as long as they are deployed in areas with more than 350 days of sunlight that are near the equator. That's a lot of sunlight, but the area of the coast of the UAE fits the bill. Of course, it's also necessary for the structures to be able to survive a serious storm either by motoring to shore to avoid it, or being resilient enough to live through it.
In any case, I'm pretty excited about the prospects of harnessing the seemingly limitless bounty of the sun hitting the ocean's surface.
Via CSEM Press Release, and Good Clean Tech
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