Taking Solar Offshore: Bringing Unlimited Renewable Energy to Small Island States

10 July 2017, New York – Article by Swimsol GmbH

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face numerous challenges in their struggle towards a sustainable future. Currently, SIDS are still heavily dependent on fossil fuel imports and rely strongly on diesel for their electricity production. This is not only environmentally damaging, but, perhaps even more important for the local population, it is also one of the most expensive forms of electrical energy.

The inherent geographical distance of islands from land masses makes grid connection to large grids with cheaper energy often not feasible. Land scarcity on islands is a constant pressure – some islands in the Maldives for example are less than 1 km². This makes space-consuming solar installations a near impossibility (1 MW of solar power requires land the size of a football field).

But small island states are also large ocean states.

“On the ocean, space is nearly unlimited. With SolarSea, we make solar energy possible beyond the limitations of land”, as Thomas Siebenbrunner put it during his presentation at the UN Oceans Conference on the 5th of June in New York. The idea of building a “Renewable Energy Hub” in the Maldives drove Swimsol, an Austrian start-up, to create an offshore solar solution capable of powering whole islands with solar at a price cheaper than they pay for electricity from diesel. The technology makes it possible to use the vast ocean surface for solar panels, and has a higher energy output than land-based solar systems due to the cooling effect of the ocean.

Swimsol calls this technology SolarSea, and it is the world’s first floating solar system for the sea. SolarSea is the first of its kind, successfully producing solar energy on a marine surface despite challenging conditions such as waves, wind, tides, and corrosive elements. The oldest commercial installation was installed already 2.5 years ago in the Maldives.

As laid out in the SAMOA Pathway, the transition towards sustainable energy is one of the top priorities for SIDS. Fewer diesel shipments generate substantial economic savings as well as help to safeguard the islands’ fragile coastal ecosystems, protecting them from damage due to air and water pollution.

Swimsol’s goal with SolarSea is to bring affordable, clean energy to island nations otherwise unable to access it. During the UN Oceans Conference, Swimsol submitted a voluntary commitment to help SIDS reach Sustainable Development Goal 14, which pertains to the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean. By building partnerships with SIDS and leveraging private and institutional financing, SolarSea technology will be brought to new locations and made accessible to islanders around the world. With their commitment, Swimsol aims to use “the ocean to create sustainable economic benefits for Small Island Developing States and to foster a blue economy”. The commitment will also reduce CO₂, thereby helping to counter ocean acidification and climate change.

Activities to fulfill the voluntary commitment are already underway. As a follow-up to the Oceans Conference, a briefing on SolarSea was hosted by the Austrian Mission to the UN on July 29th. Ambassadors and delegates from 10 interested states explored possibilities to introduce this new technology in their home countries and discussed the corresponding regulatory framework. And to move forward on the ground, Swimsol also just deployed a marine biologist to Fiji and the Pacific to conduct research, determine feasibility, and ultimately create new partnerships with SIDS to implement floating solar energy projects.

This isn’t the first time Swimsol has travelled halfway around the world for partnerships. In 2016, at the UN Aruba Public Private Partnerships Conference, they introduced SolarSea technology to participating SIDS and presented best practices on supporting islands to switch to renewable energy. In a project with the Austrian Development Agency, a model has been developed to fully finance SolarSea installations while guaranteeing monetary savings to the community. The project aimed at capacity building and creating local business partnerships. As a result, a 96 kWᵨ system was installed at a local island in Maldives in 2015. By now, floating solar has been identified as a key recommendation by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its Renewable Energy Roadmap: Maldives 2015.

Swimsol is committed to making unlimited renewable energy possible for small islands and coastal cities, and continues to make strides towards ensuring that affordable, renewable energy is accessible to all.


The positions taken are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. This article was written by Kristen Dlugosch, the Sales & Partner Support Manager at Swimsol GmbH.

 Feature Photo: Courtesy of Swimsol
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