Singapore now home to one of the world's largest floating solar farms

The 5MW-peak system installation is expected to produce an estimated 6 million kilowatt hours of energy per year.
The 5MW-peak system installation is expected to produce an estimated 6 million kilowatt hours of energy per year.PHOTO: SUNSEAP GROUP

SINGAPORE - Singapore is now home to one of the world's largest floating solar farms and it is capable of potentially offsetting more than 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

This is roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 900 passenger vehicles a year.

Sustainable energy provider Sunseap Group on Tuesday (March 23) said it took close to a year to set up the solar farm in sea water in the Strait of Johor, off Woodlands, given the restrictions during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It involved a total of 13,312 panels, 40 inverters and more than 30,000 floats, spread over an area about  the size of seven football fields.

The 5MW-peak system installation is expected to produce an estimated 6 million kW-hours of energy per year. It can potentially offset an estimated 4,258 tonnes of carbon dioxide, bringing the country closer to decarbonisation.

In land-scarce Singapore, the success of such a a sea-based floating system could lead the way for more such projects to tap energy from the sun here and in the region.

The solar farm is equipped with electrical panels, control systems and a 22 kilovolt transformer.

It is also a landing point for the subsea cable that transmits the generated power to the national grid. The floating system is designed to withstand changing weather conditions, keeping the platform and all of the operational equipment on board steady.

There is also an air-conditioned second deck that doubles up as a visitor centre and viewing gallery.

Mr Frank Phuan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sunseap Group, said: "This is an important milestone for Sunseap as we believe that offshore space like the sea, reservoirs, lakes... offers exciting opportunities for land-scarce and densely populated cities to tap solar energy. They are places that are unobscured from the sun and with low risks of vandalism or theft."

The project was more challenging compared with other land-based or rooftop installations due to the unpredictable nature of the open sea, the need to avoid shipping routes and the presence of barnacles, Sunseap said.

Marine expertise was also required for mooring installation and system design.

Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar noted the challenges surrounding this project.

He said: “One needs to contend with waves, tidal currents, as well as biofouling (the accumulation of unwanted micro-organisms like plants and algae on surfaces, resulting in degradation) that grow rapidly in tropical waters.”

In addition to the mechanical anchoring considerations, electrical systems also need to be designed to transmit power to the shore, Prof Subodh added.

“This is a near-shore installation, but this experience of building such sea water solar farms at scale would be invaluable to venture into installations that are in remote ocean areas that would not have competing use cases for shipping or recreation.”

“For Singapore to meet our ambitions for renewables deployment, and for the global efforts to reach carbon neutrality in the upcoming decades, such solutions that extend the opportunity to increase our solar output would have great international demand,” Prof Subodh said.

The Covid-19 lockdown last year posed an additional challenge as foreign workers hired by Sunseap's contractor were unable to leave their dormitories.

"I am so thankful to many members of our team who rolled up their sleeves to fill in the gap during this period. Their professionalism and esprit de corps were key to the successful completion of the project in the face of the numerous challenges," Mr Phuan said.

A key part of protecting the planet from global warming involves shifting from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Singapore is committed to reducing carbon emission intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and the country's high levels of solar exposure make solar power a viable option.