What you need to know about floating solar panels (floatovoltaics)

This article was written by Abigail Jibril

What you need to know about floating solar panels (floatovoltaics)

With the wide adoption of solar energy for improving energy access and reducing carbon emissions, individuals, organisations and nations are willing to increase power generation through renewables. For countries to improve power generation using solar energy, large expanses of land will be needed. Also, not all rooftops are suited for solar. Did you know that an alternative option in the market is erecting a solar farm on the water – Floating Solar Farms (Floatovoltaics)?

About 71% of the earth’s surface is made of water. Hence, it makes a lot of sense to use water and maximize land space for agriculture, industrial and residential purposes.

Floating solar or Floating Photovoltaics are solar farms constructed on water. They are usually installed on lakes, ponds, etc that have non-flowing water and are calmer than oceans. What is it made of?

  1. A Floating Structure: The solar panels don’t just stay on the water body directly, they are mounted on a floating structure called Pontoon.  Pontoons have the ability to float while carrying heavy loads.
  2. Anchor system: This is used to keep the pontoon in a static position.
  3. Cabling: The cables used for this type of installations should have impeccable weather-proof characteristics.
  4. Solar Panels: These are components that convert solar energy into electrical energy.

This is a diagram showing the components of a floating solar system. Image was gotten from Where Sun Meets Water; FLOATING SOLAR MARKET REPORT, World bank.


Floating Solar vs Photovoltaics on Land

So, are the floating PV plants more efficient than those deployed on land? The answer to this question is relative. Here are some other things to note about this technology:

  1. Floating solar installations do not require the use of valuable land space. Where land is scarce, deploying floating solar installations saves land for agriculture, industrial or residential uses. In addition, these installations help reduce deforestation and other such practices done during large solar PV installations.
  2. The floating solar panels over the water bodies help reduce evaporation of water, thereby reducing the possibilities of drought and also reduce the presence of algae blooms in the water, thus saving freshwater for drinking. In agricultural reservoirs, the solar panels can reduce evaporation, improve water quality, and serve as an energy source for pumping and irrigation.
  3. While floating panels are more expensive to install, they are up to 16 per cent more efficient because the water’s cooling effect helps reduce thermal losses and extend their life, according to Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore.
  4. The technology can also help manage periods of low water availability by using solar capacity first and drawing on hydropower at night or during peak demand.

The first floating solar plant was built in 2007 in Aichi, Japan.  The first commercial installation was a 175 kWp system built at the Far Niente Winery in California in 2008. Other countries like China (now the largest player), Brazil, Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Maldives, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom have followed suit.

The floating solar technology is still nascent and there are sure a lot of other things to know about its operations in the long term.

ALSO READ: Energy access: a tool for poverty alleviation in rural communities

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