Did you know that floating solar plants are an eco-friendly alternative to generating energy? It’s like water meets the sun. The electricity generated by the solar power is then sent through an underwater wiring system to transmission plants.
According to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency, solar power is now the cheapest way of producing electricity, but there’s a stumbling block in the way of this sustainable energy powerhouse, and that is space.
Even though energy and water don’t usually go together, many floating PVs are built almost everywhere.
Consider this article as your personalised guide while understanding more about floating solar panels.
What is a Floating Solar?
Floating solar, technically called floating photovoltaic (FPV) or floatovoltaics, is a kind of solar arrangement that floats on the surface of any water body. Solar panels must be attached to a buoyant framework that keeps them afloat above the water surface.
Most solar installations are located on calmer water surfaces like lakes and ponds and not oceans and rivers. Man-made water bodies like reservoirs are also among the popular choices.
The solar module, vertical and horizontal frames, anti-rust material, buoyancy body, inspection footrest, and module mount assembly make up a floating solar panel plant.
The solar module must be dustproof, humidity resistant, lead-free, and effectively protected to prevent water damage. In this technique, Polyethylene buoyancy is used, which can hold 2.5 times its weight. The floating structure comprises a magnesium alloy covering that prevents it from getting corroded. Although it is a relatively new concept, it has started to gain popularity in the UK.
Now, let’s get to know how do the floating solar panels work.
How Do Floating Solar Panels Work?
The floating solar power plants’ work begins with collecting solar energy from highly efficient solar power panels. The power generated in the solar panels is then integrated into the combined box before being transmitted to the central inverter. The inverter converts DC to AC for transfer, much like a standard PV system. The power from the inverter is initially transmitted to the transformer, where it is stepped down, and then sent to the transmission system, from where it is sent to the end-user.
Deploying floating solar power panels in water bodies is a win-win situation. The panels cool themselves to prevent excessive heat from entering the water bodies, increasing their overall energy generation. The cooling effect has the potential to boost the annual energy output of floating solar panels by 6%. So cool (literally).
When you think about it, the efficiency of floating solar power panels and their overall working principle is a wonderful idea that answers many problems.
Should you Install Floating Solar photovoltaic?
Here are some advantages that you get if you install floating solar power plants over traditional ground projects.
Advantages of Floating Solar Power
Floating solar power projects are more efficient
Solar panels are durable and can withstand extreme temperature fluctuations. However, higher temperatures result in lower power outputs as with other technologies. The efficacy of solar panels degrades as temperatures rise, which can be an issue for property owners who want to install panels in a hot, sunny region. The water bodies that host the floating solar plants help cool down the solar equipment, allowing the panels to produce power more efficiently in hot areas than they would otherwise.
Floating solar power projects save valuable land resources
Floating solar plants do not take up limited spare land area. As solar is land-intensive, floating solar is an excellent alternative. Many of these structures can be found on water bodies like hydroelectric dams, wastewater treatment reservoirs, and drinking water reservoirs, where there is vacant space. This allows landowners to use a location that might otherwise go unused. Rather than deploying on sunny land that could be used for something else in the future, floating solar projects are a great option.
Furthermore, developing floating solar projects on open water eliminates the need for tree cutting and destruction of forests, which is a standard procedure with larger solar panel installations.
These renewable energy plants have a good environmental impact
Floating solar panels can undoubtedly aid in the promotion of healthier surroundings. Water has a cooling effect on solar equipment in floating solar panels, but it also has a cooling effect on the solar equipment. The ponds, reservoirs, and lakes are shaded by floating structures, lowering evaporation. This is especially beneficial in drought-prone locations, where water loss due to evaporation can mount up over time and lead to a shortage.
Finally, floating solar panels provide a clean, renewable energy source. Renewable energy sources help reduce carbon emissions and other toxins in the atmosphere, which influences both the natural environment and human health. This positive environmental impact is also the reason which creates a vast potential for this technology in the market. Other than the UK, many Asian nations such as China, Japan have also promoted their use because of the promising growing industry and a clean energy future.
Floating solar plants require minimal maintenance
Floating structures require minimal operation and maintenance due to the aforementioned cooling effect. Of course, the type of installation will determine this. Algae blooms are a severe menace to water bodies. One of its reasons is greater light filtration, which FPV projects mitigate.
Floating arrays help in reduced evaporation from water bodies
Floatovoltaics have a lot of potential to reduce the rapid evaporation occurring in water bodies due to rising temperatures. Research has shown that floating solar plants can prevent 9000+ acre-feet water from evaporating regularly.
Disadvantages of FPV projects
Following are some demerits that you get if you install a floating solar plant over a traditional ground project.
Floating PV may not be right for everyone
Floating solar panels are not suitable for everyone. The bulk of floating solar arrays are large-scale, supplying energy to utility companies, huge towns, businesses, and municipalities. If you’re thinking about going solar for your home, a rooftop or traditional ground-mounted system makes more sense.
Those who think of investing in floating solar panels typically must have access to a vast water surface, large enough to accommodate hundreds and thousands of solar panels. In contrast to these types of installations, the average household solar panel system includes only about 20 panels.
Floating energy systems can be heavy on your pocket
Floating solar panels may have higher installation costs than standard solar panels. Since this is a recent development that needs specialised equipment and more specific installation knowledge, it is often more expensive than establishing comparable-sized solar farms on rooftops or ground-mounted solar projects. However, as with standard solar panels, the cost of installing floating solar plants is expected to decrease as the technology of the floating solar market progresses.
Floating solar power plants can be dangerous to aquatic life
While the evidence is still inconclusive, the solar panels can potentially disrupt aquatic life by preventing the sunlight from reaching its maximum water surface. Furthermore, the panels and apparatus used to lock them can endanger animals who are unaware of their existence or take up space in their natural environment.
The most significant negative element of floating PV systems is the possible environmental impact on fishes and other water-dwelling species. However, when floating solar panels are constructed on man-made lakes and reservoirs, the biological diversity is less than that of a natural lake, making them desirable for floating solar panel systems. Ergo, a site conditions assessment should be taken before executing the project to understand the site-specific environmental conditions.
Anchoring and mooring issues can pose barriers to installation
Any reservoir/site has its own set of obstacles. Anchoring and mooring are very site-specific activities.
Anchors cannot be installed on the seabed in some reservoirs, and others have substantially irregular seabed profiles and poor bathymetric studies. In dams with considerable water level variations, mooring and anchoring become difficult.
How Much Is It Going to Cost?
Overall, the costs of constructing an FPV system from project to project and from location to location varies. Water level change, depth, quality, and salinity are all factors that influence the cost structure.
The bathymetry of the reservoir determines the anchoring and mooring system’s design arrangement. Depending on the prevailing wind regime in the area, the FPV plant design must withstand site-specific environmental issues.
Other elements to consider are the distance from the shore, accessibility to the site, proximity to the grid, local infrastructure, and overall logistics. Furthermore, water-based electrical technology results in greater operation and maintenance expenses and may also necessitate better moisture resistance in installed cabling. In addition, due to a lack of empirical evidence, projects often necessitate a more thorough technical due diligence.
What Does the Future Hold for Floating Arrays?
We can only expect a greater reliance on renewables in the future. Thanks to technological advancements, these have gotten much cheaper and more effective even in the last decade. The popularity of this holistic system-level approach has accelerated considerably in the past few years.
The UK is undoubtedly the one to follow for renewable energy breakthroughs, with ambitious targets in place to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.
In the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, the renewables industry maintained constant numbers, demonstrating governments’ devotion, leading companies, and the general people. To share risk and returns, harmonised energy experts and the government could take up quality approaches such as a joint industry project.
Looking ahead, fast-growing technology such as AI, cloud, and IoT will undoubtedly enable even more optimisation, presenting exciting potential on the path to carbon reduction.
Floating PV is still a new approach to the energy transition as compared to the ground panels we are used to, but it appears to offer a huge potential in regions where space for solar farms is limited or where water is abundant. We will become less dependent on fossil fuels as we put more solar on the land, rooftops, and even oceans.
For the time being, floating-PV has a promising future in boosting worldwide renewable energy generation in various regions and sectors. As tech and construction techniques advance and via economies of scale, installation prices will decrease. Meanwhile, the benefits, which range from encouraging sustainable energy to reducing water scarcity and preserving biodiversity to creating jobs, are only getting started.