Written by: Li Yen Thor
As we all know, sources of renewable energy are desperately needed to meet our energy needs as conventional energy such as fossil fuels are limited and incessantly contributing to global warming1. However, when it comes to installing large-scale solar panels, much land is needed. Therefore, are we prepared to clear acres of forests for solar energy? What about densely-populated countries with no extra land to spare? The solution: solar panels that float on water.
As the surface of water bodies are massively large and otherwise considered as unused space, they are the most ideal for placing commercial solar panels. Without even taking up 1% of its total area2, a square acre of floating solar in water can generate 500,00kWh of clean energy3!
How do they work?
Floating solar panels or floating photovoltaic (FPV) are just like land-based ones but instead, they are mounted on a recyclable plastic platform to float on water. They are placed on calm bodies of water such as ponds, lakes and dam reservoirs to avoid harsh impacts otherwise faced in oceans/seas4.
Countries that are already on the scene.
After the first FPV was built in Japan in 2007, FPVs in other Asian countries such as Korea and India have been increasingly popular due to land scarcity. Currently, China is leading the market with the world’s largest floating solar farm, generating 70MW of power to 15,000 homes, and has another 150MW plant on its way5.
New Zealand, in contrast, has been slow to enter the market. The first FPV project is planned to be built in Auckland with 2,700 solar panels. If completed, it will be the country’s largest solar array6.
Is FPV more environmentally beneficial than its land counterpart?
Besides the most obvious being no land use is needed, others include:
- Helps maintain ecological balance by blocking sunlight from penetrating the water, which inhibits algae bloom7.
- Coverage of water surface reduces water evaporation by 80%. This is especially helpful in arid countries that are facing water scarcity4.
- Due to the cooling effect of water, panels have a lesser risk of overheating. Therefore extends its lifespan and is 16% more efficient than land-based panels7.
Concerns about the ‘newcomer’.
The introduction of a new technology is bound to come with concerns. As you would expect, a robust track record still lacks. Thus creating uncertainty surrounding its long-term maintenance, electrical and transportation safety, and most importantly, its effects on water quality and its habitants in the long run8. Moreover, FPVs cost 20-25% more than ground-mounted ones due to the need of anchoring and specialized installation knowledge9. However, the price is likely to drop as technology improves.
The main question is, why invest in solar energy, particularly floating ones when there are other renewable energy sources available? Well the pitch is: wind power affects bird life, hydro power alters ecosystems, and solar farms require land. Floating solar panels, on the other hand, provides clean energy and additional benefits. However, this project is specifically suited for large businesses and communities. If you personally want to get on the solar scene, rooftop solar panels will be more suitable. In the meantime, it seems like FPVs are here to stay and predicted to grow rapidly within the next 2 decades4.
- Goswami, A., Sadhu, P., Goswami, U., & Sadhu, P.K. (2019). Floating solar power plant for sustainable development: A techno‐economic analysis. Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy, 38(6), e13268. https://doi.org/10.1002/ep.13268
- Angell, A. (2018, October 23). The Pros and Cons of Floating Solar. HahaSmart Solar. https://www.hahasmart.com/blog/2450/the-pros-and-cons-of-floating-solar
- Baker, S. (2015, November 18). The Benefits of Floating Solar Panels. Solar.com. https://www.solar.com/learn/the-benefits-of-floating-solar-panels/
- Erdem, Z. (2019, July 2). Will floating solar arrays float or sink? Solar Power World. https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2019/07/will-floating-solar-arrays-float-or-sink/
- Kenning, T. (2019, March 20). World’s largest floating solar plant connected in China. PVTech. https://www.pv-tech.org/news/worlds-largest-floating-solar-plant-connected-in-china
- Hill, J. S. (2019, September 4). New Zealand Utilities Announce Country’s First Floating Solar Array. CleanTechnica. https://cleantechnica.com/2019/09/04/new-zealand-utilities-announce-countrys-first-floating-solar-array/
- The ASEAN Post. (2019, February 12). The potential of floating solar power. https://theaseanpost.com/article/potential-floating-solar-power
- World Bank Group, ESMAP & SERIS. (2018). Where Sun Meets Water: Floating Solar Market (Executive Summary report).
- Pouran, H. M. (2018). From collapsed coal mines to floating solar farms, why China’s new power stations matter. Energy Policy, 123, 414-420. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2018.09.010