Floating Solar Panel
FloatSun concept (Image: Phelan Energy Group)
  • The same energy group which developed the massive solar farm near De Aar in the Northern Cape has unveiled a water-based panel.
  • Floating solar panels don’t take up as much useable space as those on land and generate more electricity thanks to the water’s cooling effect.
  • The 120-cell, 400w FloatSun developed by Phelan Energy Group will be manufactured in Dubai.
  • The company hopes to deploy 5 million units over the next three years, "with a focus on areas of land scarcity and high sunshine".
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Phelan Energy Group, which manages the largest solar farm in South Africa, has unveiled plans for a new floating solar panel. The company aims to produce 5 million units by 2025, targeting countries where open land is scarce and sunshine is abundant.

Covering almost 500 hectares in the Northern Cape, 600,000 solar panels with an installed capacity of 175 MW form the De Aar solar project. Developed and installed by Solar Capital – a subsidiary of Phelan Energy Group – the complete farm was inaugurated in 2016, with a contract to feed renewable energy to Eskom for 20 years.

Phelan Energy Group’s foray into the world of solar began in South Africa in 2005. Until very recently, its international headquarters were based in Cape Town and although the company has projects in Afghanistan and India, its solar panels in South Africa account for almost 70% of the firm’s total installed capacity.

Now the renewable energy firm has turned its attention to floating solar power farms, presenting the concept during a conference in Amsterdam at the end of September.

Floating Solar Panel
FloatSun concept (Image: Phelan Energy Group)

"The world population is forecast to grow to 10 billion people by 2050, which will stress resources to feed the planet. With over 70% of the world surface covered by water, we need to use waterbodies to deploy solar, and save our land for food production," said Pearse Phelan, leader of the FloatSun project.

Floating solar projects are a relatively new concept, having really only been deployed at significant scale over the past decade. South Africa’s first floating solar panel project came online in 2019. Installed on a farm dam near Franschhoek, the project has a generation capacity of 60kW.

See more | South African farmers have built the first floating solar park in Africa

These floating power projects have several advantages over land-based solar installations, including easier installation and decommissioning, not occupying land, and generating more electricity thanks to the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels.

The 120-cell, 400w FloatSun is based on a proprietary thermoplastic polymer frame, that maintains the solar panel just centimetres above the water surface to maximise cooling and increase efficiency. The main float weighs around 15kg, measuring 1.9 metres by 1.2 metres. The walkway float adjoining the panels weighs 7kg.

The floats are produced through blow moulding, a common process for manufacturing hollow polymer structures. It’s designed with a "cooling cavity and air vortex to maximise the water-cooling effect on the solar cells and increase power yields".

"In addition, a unique, solar-powered, automatic ThermoKlean system constantly cleans the graphene-coated, high transmission glass and lowers panel temperature," said Phelan.

Floating Solar Panel
FloatSun concept (Image: Phelan Energy Group)

FloatSun will work well with dams that are already being used to generate hydroelectricity, the company said, owing to the existing transmission infrastructure. The FloatSun V3, designed for sea deployment, is also being developed.

The FloatSun will be produced in Dubai and the company hopes to produce a million units within the next year and 5 million units over the next three years.

"Phelan Energy Group will deploy its new technology, exclusively, in partnership with renewable energy developers and other solar stakeholders, with a focus on areas of land scarcity and high sunshine," the company said.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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