Swimsol Incorporates Spotters into their Design Process for Floating Solar Systems on the Sea

Sahir Khan and Verena Wiesbauer, Swimsol GmbH
Sahir Khan and Verena Wiesbauer, Swimsol GmbH

Swimsol is an Austrian-Maldivian company that is specialized in developing floating solar systems for marine environments. Our journey can be traced back to 2009 when a visit to the Maldives prompted the realisation that while sunshine and space within its many lagoons is plentiful, available land area for solar installations is in short supply. To overcome this limitation, the idea of environmentally friendly floating solar platforms for tropical islands was born.

Image 1: Fully operational system at LUX* Resort, South Ari Atoll, Maldives
Image 2 Marine life growing on one of our early prototypes.

Image 3 Satellite view of Baa Atoll - Maldives, showing turquoise island reef lagoons nested within the dark blue waters of the intra-atoll lagoon and its channels. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan

At present, our systems are designed to operate within the shallower waters of tropical island-reef lagoons. Our aim is to expand our area of operations to the deeper and less sheltered waters of Maldivian intra-atoll lagoons. This will act as our next step towards designing systems for nearshore, and ultimately offshore deployments worldwide. In order to do so however, we need to develop a better understanding of the environmental conditions in such locations. This is where Spotter comes in!

Until recently we have relied mostly on pressure-based devices to conduct in-situ wave and tide measurements. These can be very accurate, but come with some limitations, including significant signal attenuation with depth, an inability to resolve wave directions, and challenging setups for streaming data from remote locations.

Spotters are a natural solution to many of these challenges as they can be deployed in any depth, provide a richer picture of wind as well as wave conditions via their directional measurement capabilities, and are able to stream data in near-real time to our design offices in Vienna, from virtually anywhere in the world. As such, we no longer need to wait for months at a time to revisit and collect data from our in-situ devices before incorporating measurements into our design process.

Image 5: Wave model test results for Maldives
Image 4: Spotter test deployment near our operational platforms at OZEN by Atmosphere resort - South Male Atoll, Maldives

Spotters can also be used to validate numerical wave models via the comparison of two-dimensional wave spectra. Swimsol is currently investigating the suitability of wave modelling for the Maldives and hopes that deployments of well-placed Spotters will play an important role in calibrating as well as validating such models. In turn this will help to bridge the gap between short-duration in-situ measurements and long duration predictions for generating improved design criteria for our floating systems.

Since obtaining our first Spotter approximately one year ago, we have already gained valuable experience with conducting wave measurements in tropical lagoons. This has included modifying the mooring to balance free movement of the Spotter in shallow coral-filled waters with long-term reliability, avoiding rope tangling under occasional calm conditions, and learning to react quickly to Spotter alerts and unexpected surprises. A memorable incident included having our Spotter ‘borrowed’ and taken on a multi-day tour of several islands before we successfully located and recovered it thanks to its solar-powered GPS tracking system.  

Image 6: Path taken by our Spotter. It was recovered undamaged, several days later just North of Hulhumale, thanks to its GPS ‘track-mode’ feature.
Image 7: Marine Biologist and Spotter deployment expert, Verena Wiesbauer (left), and Swimsol Maldives Office Manager, Rifasa Faiz (right), with the recovered measurement buoy.

Overcoming such challenges has been an excellent team-building exercise between Swimsol’s R&D team in Vienna and the deployment team in the Maldives. The ability to request deployments or adjustments at short notice from the other side of the world and to see this reflected via the Sofar dashboard in real-time is a uniquely special part of our Spotter story. We are confident that the future holds even more rewarding challenges for Swimsol and our Spotters.

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