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Floating solar panel (Source: Channel NewsAsia).

HDB to look into floating solar panel in the open sea

Housing and Development Board (HDB) is looking into setting up floating solar panels in the open sea to accelerate the adoption of solar energy in the Republic.

The board announced on Sunday (8 July) that  it will start a research collaboration with landscaping firm, ISO Landscape to begin research to test its modular system, a support structure that can hold solar panels, in open sea conditions.

The collaboration agreement will be signed on Tuesday at the World Cities Summit. The board noted that it will cover the study and development of a floating solar system for coastal marine conditions and will look at how to combat harsher conditions such as stronger winds and wave action.

Cheong Koon Hean, HDB chief executive officer, noted that the statutory board has been spearheading solar initiatives and accelerating solar adoption across the island in the past 10 years, adding, "One way to further harvest Singapore’s solar energy is to look beyond the sky to the sea. This is a practical approach considering Singapore’s land constraints."

A large majority of solar panels are installed on the rooftops of HDB blocks, with more than 2,400 blocks installed or being fitted with solar panels currently.

By 2020, HDB stated that about 5,500 blocks will be fitted with or identified for solar installation.

At this moment, more than 95 per cent of Singapore's grid energy comes from the burning of natural gas.

Though natural gas is considered the cleanest form of fossil fuel, its combustion still contributes to the production of greenhouse gases.

Renewable energy from the sun would reduce Singapore's reliance on fossil fuels. However, as Singapore is small land area, there is a limit to how much solar energy can be harvested from solar panels on land.

"One way to further harvest Singapore's solar energy is to look beyond to the sea," Dr Cheong said.

On water, the solar panels can potentially receive maximum sunlight as these water bodies are typically free of obstruction.

A floating wetland system was first implemented in Punggol Waterway in 2011, which was designed in-house by their engineers.

The modular system utilises a unique interlocking solution to create a light-weight structure with high strength and rigidity.  The advantages of the system allows flexible configuration in any size and shape to carry heavy loads, as well as easily assembled and placed anywhere on the water surface.

Earlier in May, the system has since been deployed to support a floating solar system in Tengeh Reservoir, located in Tuas.

The board partnered with Million Lighting Co to develop a 100 kilowatt peak (KWp) floating solar system under the Tengeh project, which started in January this year, which comprised of 864 modules, with each module able to support up to 75kg. Together, they support 368 solar panels and inverters, weighing some 9,400 kg.

The floating solar farm at Tengah was officially launched in May, and is estimated to generate about 120 MWh of electricity a year, reducing carbon emissions by 60 tonnes annually.

The HDB is studying the expansion of its use in areas beyond greening with that success. One possibility being looked into is the use of this system to hold solar panels on water bodies to harvest solar energy.