PUB studies environmental impact of floating solar panels


June 25, 2015

SINGAPORE — Studies are underway to assess the environmental impact of installing floating solar panels at Tengeh reservoir, as the Republic continues to look for ways to optimise land-use for solar power generation.

The Tengeh project was announced last year, and a tender for the contract to build the panels will be launched in September. The environmental study will measure the effect of water-based solar photovoltaic (PV) cells on the reservoir's water quality, biodiversity and evaporation, by examining these indicators before and after the panels are installed. It is being conducted in collaboration with the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and DHI Water & Environment, and will end in 2017, a year after the panels are installed.

These updates were shared by PUB during a visit to Choa Chu Kang Waterworks (CCKWW), the first water treatment plant here to be installed with solar panels. During the visit, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said it is important to optimise the use of land in Singapore, but it would not be possible to cover the nation's reservoirs, which make up about 5 per cent of Singapore's land area.

"The appearance of water is still far more beautiful than that of a photovoltaic cell … But where we can, and where it makes economics and operational sense, we will do so," he said.

CCKWW is the first of four announced PUB facilities to be fitted with PV cells and was chosen as the pilot project because of its large roof area. About 3,300 solar panels now provide an average of 7 per cent of the Waterworks' daily energy needs since it began operations on May 21.

The panels are estimated to generate 1.1 gigawatt hours per year — the equivalent of the annual electricity of 247 Housing and Development Board (HDB) households. On the cards are PV cells at Changi Water Reclamation plant, Bedok Waterworks and Waterhub. PUB aims to have all new plants and selected existing plants outfitted with solar panels by 2020.

Currently, about 70 per cent of CCKWW is covered with solar panels, said PUB chief sustainability officer Tan Nguan Sen. "Because of this huge area we have, we are able to supply a lot of energy," he said.

With the global prices of PV cells falling, Dr Balakrishnan said it makes sense to fit solar panels on as many buildings and PUB facilities as possible. "Solar energy is green, renewable, and right now, solar energy is competitive with grid energy."

The Government is moving to tap solar power on a larger scale. Earlier this month, it called its first tender for PV panels to be installed across multiple public-sector premises — which will include 900 HDB blocks — to collectively produce about 40 megawatts (peak) of power.