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Floating Solar: Does US Have Enough Water for It?

Floating Solar: Does US Have Enough Water for It?
July 18, 2022 Angelika Komaiszko

The United States (U.S.) is starting to see potential for floating photovoltaics (FPV), otherwise known as floating solar, floatovoltaics. This began when earlier this month the US Army launched a large floating solar array at Camp Mackall on Fort Bragg, in North California. With solar power evolving to suit the needs of the increasingly climatic times we are currently facing, the US has yet to discover and implement the possibility of expanding in floating solar.

floating solar us

Figure 1: Floating solar project at the University of Central Florida [4]. 

Floatovoltaics

Floating solar is the process of solar panels being mounted on a structure which floats on water, typically a reservoir, or a lake. With two-thirds of the planet’s surface being covered by water, the process of floatovoltaics is extremely beneficial for the environment, the sustainability of the planet, and combatting global warming. Despite this potential, FPVs currently only make up 2% of all domestic solar installations. Floatovoltaics have the potential of solving various problems which currently affect conventional solar energy, including: 

  • Exclusive land use
  • Energy distribution
  • Heat dispersion. 

The promising tech may also help with hydrological regulation in canals, reservoirs, and draught-threatened natural bodies of water [1].

What are the Benefits?

Implementing floating solar has numerous benefits for various groups of people, and widely for the future of the world. Here, we will be discussing the most notable reasons for floating solar. 

  1. Freeing up land: As floatovoltaics are built to float on a body of water, they reduce the land required to produce renewable energy; this frees up land for agriculture, infrastructure, and other environmental, residential, and commercial necessities. The list of possible locations (bodies of water) where FPVs can be installed is extensive, including on-shore ponds, lakes, reservoirs, dams, or off-shore waters.  
  2. Efficient hydropower: When installed on hydroelectric dam reservoirs, floatovoltaics limit evaporation, preserving more water for electricity, thereby playing the role of a multiplier of hydropower. As well as being an efficient hydropower, FPVs are also cost-effective due to their ability to being connected to existing power grid links. 
  3. Cooling effect: Recent studies demonstrated that the technology of floatovoltaics produces more power than rooftop or ground-mounted solar installations [2]. This is due to the cooling impact of the water beneath the panels; thanks to this, the panels sustain higher efficiencies over time at a high temperature. There is also evidence which suggests that floating solar panels could help to reduce global warming; depending on the design of the panels, reducing the number of panels that reach the water can have a large cooling effect.

Complications

While floatovoltaics have many extremely efficient advantages, it is worth noting some of their drawbacks and reservations to install them.

  1. Maintenance: Currently, FPV plants are intended to last between 25–30 years, however equipment corrosion can significantly reduce their durability and require more maintenance; especially in waters with high salt levels. 
  2. Costs: The initial installation of FPVs cost is between 10-15% higher, compared to ground photovoltaics.
  3. Intermittency Issues: Just like ground photovoltaics, FPVs rely solely on when the sun is out for energy, and disparate timing is stressing power grids. 

Conclusion 

Last year, the Biden Administration set an ambitious goal of reaching a carbon-pollution-free power sector by 2035, with a significant reliance on solar energy. With recent shocks threatening to derail the best-laid plans, floatovoltaics offer a welcome means of boosting an expansion in renewable energy. While the costs and maintenance of the installation of floatovoltaics can be a reservation, they do not outshine the positive impacts FPVs can bring and should certainly be considered.

Pager Power offers assessments and services for planners and developers seeking to install floatovoltaics. To find out more, visit details on our solar services: https://www.pagerpower.com/solar/. 

References: 

[1] Cohen, A. (28 June 2022), ‘Floating Solar: The Most Practical Green Technology?’, Forbes.

[2] Ozdemir, D. (17 Jun 2022), ‘How putting floating solar panels over reservoirs could help us fight climate change’, Interesting Engineering.

[3] U.S. Army Public Affairs, (8 Jun 2022), ‘Army floating solar array is the largest floating system in the Southeast’, U.S. Army Public Affairs.

[4] Fernandez, A. (17 August 2017), Floating solar project at the University of Central Florida, U.S. Department of Energy from United States. Accessed via WikiMedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alvarez-Fernandez_000004_173134_518645_4578_(35953397603).jpg. 

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