Floating solar panels have emerged as a potentially groundbreaking source of renewable energy generation. They harness the power of the sun at the same time as they conserve water resources. An innovative approach that offers a sustainable solution to both our growing energy needs and challenging draughts. Today we are diving into the technology, exploring the many advantages floating solar holds over land-based installations.
Combating climate change in more ways than one
On top of generating the green energy we need to replace fossil fuels, floating solar panels can help us by reducing the water lost to evaporation. The panels are placed on the water’s surface in order to give it shade and reduce the amount of water that evaporates. The result is a significant reduction of wasted water and the potential is huge. Research projects suggest that if the technology gets widespread adoption, it could conserve the same amount of water as 300 million people drink each year. As climate change causes an increasing water scarcity this should definitely not be underestimated.
A study published in Nature Sustainability came to the conclusion that by covering just 30 percent of the surface of their water sources with solar panels, more than 6,000 cities in the world could become fully self-sufficient with renewable energy. The technology offers a scalable and efficient way to generate electricity locally and move away from fossil fuel dependency.
The synergy of solar- and hydropower
Floating solar farms have an amazing synergy with hydroelectric dams, creating a powerful source of electricity. During hot summer days, we would expect the power of solar panels to peak, however, they can actually overheat. When placed on the surface, the water cools the panels so that they maintain their efficiency.
Summers pose problems for hydroelectric power generation as well. Droughts reduce water levels which of course means they can’t run at maximum efficiency. As we previously mentioned, the shade from floating panels greatly reduces evaporation, leaving more water for power generation. Additionally, solar panels can also compensate for the reduced power output that seasonally affects hydropower plants, increasing reliability.
Floating solar makes use of existing infrastructure
Floating solar panels not only bring environmental advantages but offer other benefits that land-based installations don’t. By utilizing the space offered by water reservoirs, there won’t be any competition with land that could be used for things like agriculture. The method uses existing infrastructure without encroaching on valuable land resources. Especially when used in combination with hydropower plants, where much of the needed infrastructure for transmitting electricity is already in place.
The potential downsides
It should be noted that there are some potential negative effects of installing the floating solar panels. There is a possibility that it leads to reduced oxygen levels in the water, which could harm the aquatic ecosystems. This is another reason to use the existing, artificial bodies of water, like reservoirs and hydropower plants. It will allow the researchers to collect data without putting nature at risk.
Floating solar panels are already in use
While floating solar power is still a fairly new technology it’s already seeing use on several continents. The US military launched its first floating solar in 2022. One of the world’s largest floating solar farms lies in China’s Shandong province and South Korea showcases a beautiful floating solar installation that includes 92,000 panels, mounted in the shape of flowers.
Floating solar panels offer an extraordinary opportunity to power entire cities with renewable energy and conserve water resources at the same time. By making use of the cooling effect of water, solar panels provide an even more effective solution to the challenges posed by climate change.