Floating sola power plants: New solar energy technology
Is there enough roof space, or land for that matter, available for future solar power plants? Let’s take a look.
As the world keeps changing and evolving, so does energy generation as well as the technology and human creativity that makes it possible. One of these new developments is Floating Solar Power Plants or Floating Photovoltaic Plants (FPV).
Until now, we have become used to thinking of solar arrays as additions to the rooftops and expect to see designated substantial land areas filled with solar panels. But we need to take into account that there might not be enough rooftops – or land – in the location needed, and that not every rooftop may be suitable for a solar panel installation.
Floating Solar Power Plants and Traditional Solar Power Plants
An FPV is similar to a traditional solar array, but it floats on the water.
These power plants have the solar panels affixed to a buoyant structure that keeps them above the surface, thus allowing them to float.
Here is what the 1MW FPV in Singapore looks like:
These floating solar installations are new and few people know about their advantages.
Let’s take a look at some the benefits that can be obtained when compared to ground installations.
First of all, in terms of efficiency control it’s known that solar panels become less efficient as their temperature increases. Since the FPV are in contact with the water surface this keeps the solar panels cooler so they remain at an optimal operating temperature, thus improving their performance.
The second advantage is that the entire plant can be easily and cheaply rotated to follow the sun’s location.
There is another important benefit especially for the environment.
Studies have found that reducing the sunlight penetration of the water lowers the possibility of blue-green algae growth, and that the shading of the water body being covered by the solar panels saves water by reducing evaporation 75%.
Reducing the algae growth benefits the care of ponds needed for irrigation or livestock.
Moreover, according to NREL, water scarcity and high evaporation rates are substantial issues in today’s world, so covering a significant part of a water body with FPV gives significant benefits.
An NREL study made on FPV found that 24,419 man-made water bodies that represent 12% of the area of man-made water bodies in the United States are suitable for FPV generation.
Also, the study found that the installation of FPV systems in 27% of the identified suitable water bodies, could produce almost 10% of current national generation.
Actually, many of these eligible bodies of water are in water-stressed areas with high land acquisition costs and very high electricity prices. This presents great opportunities for the development of FPV technologies in these areas.
However, there are also some disadvantages related to FPV:
First of all, additional costs can be required when compared with similar sized traditional solar panel installations.
Since this is a new technology, it requires specialised equipment and knowledge, some of which has not been developed yet.
Nevertheless, costs associated with these factors are expected to drop as the technology improves.
The FPV do not work for everyone. The majority of FPV installations are intended for large-scale production because they occupy large bodies of water.
Therefore, for the residential sector it still makes more sense to install a rooftop or a ground-mounted system, unless FPV is being implemented for communities with large lakes available in their area.
Floating Solar Power Plants In The World
According to the NREL, even when the U.S was the first to install an FPV (the first being on 2008 on an irrigation pond in Napa Valley), the idea did not receive the expected national acceptance.
On the other hand, Japan is an important advocate of this technology. This country has 56 of the 70 largest FPV installations.
Meanwhile, China keeps the title with the largest FPV in the world of 40 MW in the Anhui province.
As an example of the FPV reception on today’s society, Australia launched its first FPV in Jamestown to supply power to a wastewater treatment facility.
The estimations suggest that the FPV may generate about 57% more power than traditional ground installations, enough to supply the power demands of the entire facility.
Also, the Northern Areas Council (project owners) will reduce their current energy expenditure by 15%, with the possibility of redirecting the power excess to be used by council buildings and other community sites.
Evaporation losses can reduce up to 90%, an important number for the water reservoirs of Australia.
This is another example of the resourceful engineering taking a different approach to a matter with the technology advances at hand. It allows clients to give more use to their land, being a feasible solution to an industry, an island or even a country.
It is expected that floating power plant technology will be easier to access for small-scale installations as progress is made in the near future.
Photo credit: Depositphotos, PV Buzz
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