Floatovoltaics

Floating solar projects are coming to fruition in 2019

Floating solar panel technology is an intriguing innovation in the renewable energy sector these days. FPV (floating photovoltaic) refers to an array of solar panels on a structure that floats on a body of water, typically an artificial basin or a lake. The idea boasts rapid growth on the renewable energy market since 2016, including surpassing the 200 MW mark of installed power in 2017.

Evidence is mounting that solar panels can stand up to extreme conditions, including deserts (think dust as well as heat), cold climates (solar panels work more efficiently in frigid temperatures and snow reflection also helps), and even hurricanes, according to renewable energy data compiled by CleanTechnica.

Although the method of green power generation is still in an embryonic stage, it is no longer considered a niche market by many U.S. energy analysts. Ciel & Tierre, the French company credited with inventing floating solar technology on a utility-scale basis, announced in November 2018 that the completion of two projects in the United States: a municipal floating solar project in Walden, Colorado, and a private floating solar project in Dixon, California. Other larger projects are under construction and planned in the U.S., according to the company.

While the first registered patent, regarding PV modules on water, was achieved in Italy in February 2008, growth of the sector didn’t start in earnest until around three years ago. PV plants can be constituted by modules mounted on pontoons or rafts built in either plastic or galvanized steel.

The following graph shows the growth of solar floating installations globally from its inception:

Even the government is starting to open up to floating solar. A December 2018 study—the first of its kind in the US—from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado nudged its support for the new technology: “researchers estimate that installing floating solar photovoltaics on the more than 24,000 man-made U.S. reservoirs could generate about 10 percent of the nation’s annual electricity production.”

The new study, which you can find in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal, looks at bodies of water with the right conditions for covering, at least partially, with flotillas of PV panels. Not all of these would be suitable, say, from a wildlife conservation perspective.

However, the study only looked at human-made bodies of water, which ups the odds of using many of the sites without creating new headaches for conservationists. 

The environment around Andijk presents another type of challenge, with frequent storms kicking up high winds and choppy water. When a storm comes up, the tracking system automatically shifts gears and moves the islands into a position that enables wind and water to pass through safely.

Consistent with the finding that solar panels work more efficiently in cold temperatures, the water has a cooling effect that optimizes the efficiency of floating solar arrays. Reflection from water can also increase solar cell efficiency.

Solar power, in general, has continued to permeate various aspects of life—through residential consumers, businesses, and even recreation interests.

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