Floating Solar Panels Emerge as Space Saving Alternatives to Traditional Solar Farms
A new trend in solar panel installments has seen panels afloat in water, from East Asia to Morocco. The method is a cheaper, more efficient alternative to solar panels put on roofs, or on other land.
Solar Farms have already been highly adopted by countries where flat land is scarce. Japan leads the world in the number of solar farms it operates, at 60. With little usable land, many solar farms are placed on water reservoirs of dams, which Japan has a lot of. Japanese farmers have already leased their farmland for solar sharing, where solar panels are installed high above their crops. Floating solar panels present a much cheaper option, where an otherwise unused area could be developed to produce renewable energy.
China has also been an early adopter of floating solar farms, building the largest floating solar array in the world in 2017. The Huainan solar farm was built on an artificial lake created from a collapsed coal mine. With 166,000 panels, the solar farm produces enough energy to power 15,000 homes.
Floating solar has a few advantages over traditional solar, aside from avoiding land scarcity. First, it can avoid the cost of traditional site preparation, pile driving, or fence and road construction. Further, since solar panel production decreases as temperatures rise, the cooling effect of water provides as much as a 20 percent boost in efficiency in hot climates. Depending on the use, floating solar panels can also be beneficial to the environment. Placed on top of reservoirs, it can prevent water from evaporating and causing droughts.
Low panel costs and wide-scale adoption of solar energy are two key drivers in the advancement of floating solar. Solar technology has seen major leaps in production costs, with price of PV cells decreasing more than tenfold over the past decade. Solar power has already presented a good alternative to traditional methods to generate power, as the average cost of solar is much lower, but high land cost still remains a huge problem. Further, with wide-scale adoption of solar power, land available for solar panel installments have decreased. Floating solar addresses both issues of cost and land scarcity, and is starting to be adopted by countries all over the world.
Although floating solar has seen slower adoption in America, American companies have been heavily involved in the development of floating solar around the world. Google has announced plans to build solar panels above fishing ponds in Taiwan. Apple was proud to announce that Ibiden was the first company in Japan to power all manufacturing centers for Apple with 100% renewable energy, following Apple’s own pledge for renewable energy. To do this, Ibiden has already built one of the largest floating solar farms in Japan to realize this goal.