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Using floating solar to boost Hong Kong’s renewable energy production

Published on August 30, 2022

As we continue to explore the wide-ranging repercussions of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Justin Searle, Director of Projects, explains how Binnies’ exciting floating photovoltaic (PV) projects are delivering the renewable energy needed for Hong Kong to reach net zero by 2050.

As the world transitions to a low-carbon economy, it is becoming increasingly important to optimise renewable energy delivery. But not all existing technologies are suitable for every location, and in places where space is at a premium, innovative solutions have to be found to incorporate renewable energy solutions. One such innovative way of adapting existing technologies is through the installation of floating solar panels on water bodies, which results in higher PV efficiency yields for generating power while also saving valuable land space and reducing water evaporation rates.

Hong Kong has a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and has been developing its renewables portfolio for some years in order to achieve this, including by the installation of solar panels on water bodies. Binnies Hong Kong Ltd (an RSK group company) has been providing ongoing expert advice on the delivery of this technology since it carried out the first floating solar feasibility study for the Water Supplies Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), China, back in 2017.

In the initial feasibility study, Binnies Hong Kong Ltd (formerly Black & Veatch) assessed the viability of implementing large-scale floating solar farms on the impounding reservoirs in Hong Kong. As well as identifying the available technologies, reviewing the experience of the overseas projects and advising on the technical requirements of the floating solar farm, our study factored in environmental impacts and stakeholder views.

Following this study, a second project focused on the feasibility of installing a large-scale floating solar farm at an impounding reservoir. This project successfully demonstrated the viability of the floating solar farm concept, so the HKSAR Government Drainage Services Department subsequently commissioned Binnies to expand the feasibility study of floating PV systems to Hong Kong’s Kai Tak and Shing Mun rivers. This is a more complex undertaking and will require yet more innovation, but we are already beginning to successfully deliver results.

Many of the challenges are similar to those of the pilot projects in terms of the need to ensure the safety and efficiency of the PV systems under different site and weather conditions. This includes the need to design the anchoring system to cater for high river flow velocities under flood conditions. There is also an important stakeholder engagement element to the work, as diverse community views need to be reconciled to ensure the smooth implementation of the floating PV systems on the two popular rivers. We have drawn on lessons learned from the pilot projects to overcome some of the challenges on the latest iteration of this project. We have developed a robust anchoring system to withstand adverse weather conditions without causing disturbance to the bottom of the rivers and have also undertaken early, effective and efficient engagement with key stakeholders, decision-makers and influencers.

We have also utilised our experience in the energy sector to ensure that the renewable energy generated is for preferential consumption by government facilities, to enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy bills.

By drawing on our expert knowledge of both the water and power businesses, together with extensive local and overseas experience of floating PV studies, we are helping the Hong Kong Government to identify and understand the potential technical, financial and sustainability issues of expanding its floating PV projects. Only by fully understanding the range of implications can we keep pushing the boundaries of the application of technologies, which will play an important part – alongside the development of new renewables technologies – in achieving the carbon reduction targets needed. We are looking forward to seeing many more floating solar projects across the region!

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ARTICLE AUTHOR

Justin Searle

Director of Projects, Binnies Hong Kong

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Justin Searle, Director of Projects at Binnies Hong Kong Ltd, is originally from the UK but has worked for the company in Hong Kong for 28 years. He manages a number of water and drainage projects for the Hong Kong Government and waste management projects for private clients. He also manages a major drainage and sewerage project in the city of Hue, Vietnam.

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