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Norwegian Startup Lighting the Way for Sea Change in Renewable Energy Solutions

Sunlit Sea’s prefabricated, floating solar panels optimize longevity, power production and safety, whilst taking a fraction of the time and cost to install.

In a global race to move away from fossil fuels, the world looks for sustainable alternatives that can power a low-carbon economy. Renewable energy is a viable option — it is now the fastest-growing energy source in the US and globally, and the global renewable market is projected to reach almost $2 trillion by 2030.

A major contributor to this growth is solar power. It is the world's third-largest renewable power source and has a market size expected to be worth around $368 billion by 2030. But, while solar power is promising, it is not without its downsides — although less carbon dioxide is emitted than with conventional electricity, the amount of land required to generate a significant amount of energy brings with it the destruction of biodiversity and protected areas.

Therefore, solar panel pioneers have looked to other potential available surface areas as a solution; and in 2007, the world's first floating solar panel emerged. 15 years later, floating photovoltaics (FPV) have become increasingly popular; but there are still various challenges — including varying and extreme weather; installation and maintenance; and landscape and environment.

Norwegian startup Sunlit Sea believes it has solved for these challenges. With a vision to “steer the world’s transition to floating solar as the primary renewable energy source,” the company has created prefabricated floating solar panels that save time, reduce risk and require fewer personnel to assemble the modules.

“We are at least 17 times quicker in the assembly phase and much quicker when setting up the assembly site/rig than the best of our competitors,” Per Lindberg, founder and CEO of Sunlit Sea, told Sustainable Brands™. “Currently, others build their floating solar installations on a narrow shoreline and slide the array into the water. This approach constrains the build to a narrow region and makes it more complex.”

Sunlit Sea’s prefabricated floating panels are changing the game. They can be easily transported and deployed on the water — the panels (including electronics and sensors) are developed in-house and can be streamline-packed into a container and transported to water, where they can be pulled out and towed by a boat to be deployed at the preferred location. The panels are connected by multiple strings, which can be connected to form larger modules/solar installations when on the water.

“Prefabrication allows us to build a system that makes good use of the cooling from the water, making it more robust against the motions and forces of waves and wind,” Lindberg says. “It gives us the possibility to build without connectors between the panels and to use larger panels — hence, lowering component costs.”

Unlike its competitors, Sunlit Sea’s aerodynamic solution to FPV is made for high humidity and built for a marine environment resulting in longer-lasting panels that can cope in the more turbulent surroundings.

“Floating solar installations are often exposed to higher winds and rough environmental conditions. Our solution is flat and very sturdy, which gives it low aerodynamic drag and optimal performance on the water,” Lindberg says.

When it comes to environmental issues, the company is doing all it can to set a standard for FPV. They use aluminum from reputable suppliers for production and avoid plastic (which is often the main material used). The disposal of aluminum is tied to the manufacturer, ensuring it will be recycled at its end of life. Sunlit Sea has also integrated a panel-level auto-shutdown, meaning the panels will automatically disconnect if a fault is detected. This feature helps to mitigate the implications relating to power leaks, which could potentially pose a threat to marine life and safety.

Compared to installations on land, floating solar installations are exposed to an increased amount of movement, meaning that the amount of electricity produced will vary depending on the angle of the sun and interacting waves. Therefore, the startup has created an ingenious way to calculate the power that is lost through wave-induced movement, the Wave-Corrected Performance Ratio (WCPR).

“We have gone to a great extent to understand the challenges; and as far as we know, we are the only ones working with a system that can monitor wave-induced losses,” Lindberg explains.

Sunlit Sea has deployed seven prototypes at three different locations in Norway and is now bidding on future projects. They are hoping to ultimately enable city-integrated photovoltaics.

“We hope to be part of setting the bar for FPV regarding what can be expected from knowing the power production, degradation and cutting-edge project development,” Lindberg asserts.