An offshore solar panel breakthrough has occurred in China. Two circular rafts with rows of solar panels have been generating electricity off the coast of China’s Shandong province since late 2022.

The project, conducted by State Power Investment Corp. and Ocean Sun AS, could enable the deployment of renewables in sea locations, helping land-constrained regions transition away from fossil fuels. While there are challenges to overcome, such as higher costs and the effects of corrosive salts and destructive winds, developers are increasingly confident in the potential of offshore solar as a significant segment of renewable energy.

Countries like Japan, the Netherlands, and Malaysia are already involved in test projects, while China plans to add more than 11 gigawatts of solar offshore by 2025. The installation of floating solar panels on bodies of water, including lakes, reservoirs, and dams, has already gained traction in various countries, demonstrating the potential for water surfaces to host solar systems. However, there is a need for further assessments of the long-term environmental impact of covering water bodies with panels.

Despite some concerns, offshore solar development is gaining momentum, with China prioritizing near-shore floating technologies and companies collaborating with researchers. Different concepts, such as ring-shaped floaters and triangular platforms, are being explored by developers.

The offshore solar market faces challenges such as higher installation costs and comparable power generation to land-based solar, which may limit its scale. Nonetheless, proponents believe that improving technology will enable offshore solar to play a role in reducing emissions and meeting the energy demand of densely populated areas with limited land availability.

Longi Green Energy Technology Co. is developing modules specifically designed for offshore conditions, recognizing the significant potential for offshore solar in countries like China, which could host up to 700 gigawatts of capacity.

Image source: Luz Ding, Image cropped.