26/11/2020 - Renewables
Solar power has emerged in recent years as a viable technology that will play a crucial role in the energy transition. In 2019, the solar photovoltaic (PV) market increased an estimated 12% to around 115 GW and became the third-largest renewable electricity technology. By the end of 2019, enough capacity was in operation globally to generate 2.8% of the world’s electricity.
Solar PV energy is indeed hugely advantageous. It does not generate emissions or noise while producing electricity. Solar panels have low operating and maintenance costs and, of course, the sun is an inexhaustible source of light. In addition, the cost of panels has decreased steadily over recent years boosting cost efficiency and viability. The only real challenge facing this high-potential sector is panel location.
Thinking outside the box
Solar players are, of course, looking for maximum exposure and yield associated with minimum environmental impact and visual disruption for local populations. Panels installed at ground level usually require large areas of land, and they monopolize use of such lands for long stretches of time. This raises questions about use of land – a limited commodity – as well as environmental footprint. Forward-thinking companies are therefore looking around for innovative places to place panels to overcome such challenges.
Existing structures with extensive roof space are prime candidates. They include farm buildings, industrial hangars, stadia and car and truck parks. Linear structures alongside rivers are another.
Generating power – and income – from the sun
One of the sectors with the greatest potential is the emerging agrophotovoltaics (APV) sector. This burgeoning industry makes agricultural land pack extra punch by using it both for solar photovoltaic power and farming. In 2019, a total of more than 2.9 GW of agriphotovoltaic capacity was operating around the world. Studies have shown that this system has numerous advantages including improved crop yields, reduced evaporation, rainwater harvesting, provision of shade for livestock, and prevention of wind and soil erosion, as well as additional income for farmers from electricity production.
Industrial hangars offer similarly attractive opportunities. While any structure can, in theory, accommodate solar panels, economies of scale make large structures much more efficient. Solar panels on the roof of industrial buildings can help owners reduce operating costs by generating some of the electricity required for operations, or create a welcome additional revenue stream.
The same is true of car and truck parks. These structures are equipped with shades to protect vehicles from the sun. It is a logical step to equip those structures with photovoltaic panels.
Nevertheless, some challenges need to be overcome. What all these structures have in common is the need for maximized space. They need to be built as squarely as possible and with as few supporting pillars as possible. In addition, they must of course be sturdy and hardwearing to withstand all weathers, strong enough to bear the weight of the solar panels, and lightweight enough that the actual building and installation remains relatively quick, easy and inexpensive. Choice of construction materials is paramount.
Vallourec’s solutions for solar structures
As a world leader in premium tubular solutions, Vallourec is supporting these promising applications with a range of solutions that can be used to create the kinds of structures needed in agricultural and industrial settings, and to do so in a way that enables solar panel installations.
With our hot rolled seamless tubes, we design wide span steel structures supporting solar PV panels. Vallourec’s MSH structural hollow sections offer excellent robustness, load capacity and weldability. Our sections are used in halls around the world to create spans of up to 100 meters on just two columns, with no need for internal pillars. For farmers and industrial operators, this means hangars with maximum storage space and minimal ground impact.
MSH hot-finished hollow sections offer unique benefits including weight savings of up to 30% and potential surface coating material savings of up to 50%. Our associated PREON® box design tool enables fast, adaptive and modular design, making it easy to adjust to the specific geographical locations of farmers. The powerful combination of MSH and PREON® box can save up to 30% in materials as well as saving time in design and construction, thus reducing costs.
The high performance of MSH sections, combined with the flexibility of PREON® box is attracting market interest. We have recently won a contract with Vertsun, a French company specializing in photovoltaics, to provide tubular solutions for building agricultural photovoltaic hangars.
MSH and PREON® box have also been used to create aircraft hangars, sports halls, trade fair centers, and industrial halls everywhere from France and Germany to Brazil, China and the USA. In doing so, they are playing their part in the energy transition that is seeking to ensure a sunnier future for our planet.