Can floating solar farms withstand the North Sea?

25 Oct 2021

Our Tractebel experts and partners are developing an innovative new technology for the offshore application of solar photovoltaic panels. The initiative won a 2021 Blue Innovation Award against 20 competing projects. 

In countries like Belgium where vast expanses of available land are few and far between, finding an area large enough to accommodate a solar power installation can be next to impossible. Our Renewable Energy experts have devoted over three years to developing an innovative way to overcome this hurdle: the MPVAqua project. Together with Ghent University, solar panel manufacturer Soltech and dredging companies Jan De Nul and DEME, we are working on the first floating solar energy system in the Belgian North Sea. The partners are all members of Blue Cluster, a Belgian organization composed of companies committed to promoting blue growth – the sustainable use of ocean resources – in the country’s Flanders region.  

The challenges of floating solar panels in a marine environment 

The MPVAqua project faces many challenges, such as developing floating structures to host the solar panels capable of withstanding high sea waves and protecting them from the rough sea environment. Extensive research is also ongoing on the impact of offshore solar farms on the marine ecosystem. The MPVAqua installation must have optimal integration with the environment, such as ensuring that the coating that inhibits the growth of algae and other marine life is non-toxic. Thus, synergies and compatibility in the marine environment between energy production and aquaculture will be extensively studied on the test beds. 

In addition, to create installations consistent with their sustainable purpose, the offshore solar development is designed to require no maintenance or additional costs of sending boats whose financing cannot be compensated with the energy yield. As a result, Tractebel elaborated the design and performed lab tests in order to achieve these goals. The result is a concept based on a series of individual pontoons with a failure-proof energy system on top. 

A major innovative project with patent pending  

If the MPVAqua project is a success, the first commercial offshore solar farm is expected be built in five to ten years. From then on, they can be placed between the existing turbines of the Belgian wind farms in the North Sea, for example, with the aim of doubling the energy generated by the wind farms. The laboratory tests to date have been successful and the design is complete. A patent application has been launched. If all goes according to plan, a test bed will be installed less than a kilometer off the Belgian coastal city of Ostend. Large-scale offshore solar parks have great potential to generate significant amounts of cost-competitive renewable energy, for an important contribution to a sustainable future. 

MPVAqua wins the Swell category of the Blue Innovation Awards 2021 in Dubai 

The MPVAqua project was selected as the winner of Blue Cluster’s Blue Innovation Awards in the Swell category (for collaborative initiatives) against 20 other projects submitted by 50 organizations. Each year, the organization highlights projects, products and services by companies and governmental bodies within the blue economy that promote sustainable and innovative economic activities related to the marine environment.  

The selected entries per category were presented at the G-STIC (Global Sustainable Technological and Innovation Community) in Dubai, along with the announcement of the winners on October 25, 2021. The event and voting for the projects also took place online.  

"This project represents a real innovation in sustainable energy. In Belgium, solar panels are usually placed on the roofs of houses and buildings, as it can be very difficult to obtain large areas of land to roll out PV."

Tine Boon, Product Manager, Wind Energy 



Find out more about Blue Cluster

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