Floating Solar Farms
Floating solar farms are an innovative way of making use of potential solar PV capacity where land use may be restricted despite potential higher installation costs. Floating solar PV technology has been around for many years now with the UK’s first floating solar farm installed in 2014.
Floating solar farms have an estimated capacity of 3GW globally and optimistic forecasts have been made at an additional 10GW of capacity by 2025 . Pager Power has estimated that the UK’s 10 largest reservoirs could have a peak capacity of 6804MW if floating solar PV were installed.
World’s First High-Altitude Floating Solar Farm
The world’s first high-altitude floating solar farm located in the Swiss Alps has received the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) energy award in January 2021, known as the Watt d’Or (in the category for renewable energy) and highlights the success of the technology. Romande Energie, who part owns the company operating the Lac des Toules reservoir where the installation is located, have made use of the mountainous environment to improve efficiency of the floating solar structure.
Figure 1: Lake reservoir in Swiss Alps.
The cold temperature, strong UV rays, and light reflected from the snow (albedo effect ) all contribute to a 50% increase in capacity when compared to a comparable installation on lower-lying land when tested by Guillaume Fuchs, project lead . Increasing solar farm capacity through reflections has also been implemented by installing solar towers ; however, using the capacity of the natural environment makes this installation stand out.
The installation currently has a capacity of 800,000 kWh equivalent, from 2,240 square metres of solar panels, enough to power 220 homes. However, there are plans to increase the capacity to 22,000,000 kWh equivalent to approximately 6000 homes. The solar panels are two sided and as energy is generated, they heat the snow landing on them. The panels are assembled and then transported into the region by helicopter. There might be concerns regarding the environmental impact of installing solar panels on a lake. However, Karin Söderström (energy research specialist at SFOE) explains that “Installing solar panels on a lake could indeed disrupt the ecosystem in a normal lake, but it’s different for reservoirs that are completely drained every year. Here, the solar panels have very little environmental impact.”
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