Facing soaring energy demands, Singapore is out to quadruple solar power production by 2025. But with heavy cloud cover and just 726 square kilometers (280 square miles) of land, the tiny country has limited options. So the space-starved city-state is getting creative: introducing a 45-hectare (111-acre) floating solar farm that will power its water treatment system—making Singapore one of the few nations in the world with the capability.
“This is a great example of how Singapore can harness renewable energy despite our limited land resources,” said Wong Kim Yin, group president and CEO of Sembcorp Industries, when the plant came online in July.
Floating solar panels perform up to 15 percent better than their rooftop counterparts because of the cooling effect of the water—and the PUB’s reservoir gave Sembcorp a living lab to test out the photovoltaic technology. PUB launched a test bed in 2016, devoting six months to studying the performance and cost-effectiveness, as well as assessing any risks to water quality and biodiversity.
One challenge was fitting the 122,000 solar panels across the reservoir’s limited surface area. That required Sembcorp’s team to adopt the alternative design of “panel islands,” adding three rows of panels between each walkway, with gaps to improve the airflow and allow sunlight to reach aquatic life.
To help ensure the system’s durability, the team tethered the panels to the reservoir bed, with mooring lines that will limit movement in strong winds. Another futureproof feature: The solar farm also uses drones to identify defects in the panels and alert the team to maintenance needs.
Construction on the project began in August 2020, but the pandemic meant the team faced resourcing and supply chain constraints. So it adapted, conceptualizing and implementing a new engineering and construction technique to design a custom-built jig that increased the rate of solar panel assembly by up to 50 percent.
As one of the largest inland floating solar farms in the world, Sembcorp Tengeh Floating Solar Farm could provide a blueprint for similar projects in Singapore and around the world.
“When the project was awarded to us, you get that feeling that you have to make it happen,” says Ngo Yun Fun, assistant manager, engineering, integrated solutions, Sembcorp Solar Singapore. “Being the first or pioneer team to build something of this scale is not an easy task. I would say we have come a long way.”