Are Floating Solar Panels The Way Forward For Renewable Energy?

Aerial view of large block of floating solar panels on a lake, underneath a line of trees cutting through the water

Have you heard about floatovoltaics? Amy tells you everything you need to know.

Hello everyone!

This is Amy’s Hot Topic of the week.

Last week we talked about the prediction that data centres’ electricity consumption will double by 2026 globally. This week we are going to talk about the rise of floating solar panels, also known as “floatovoltaics”.

How do floating solar panels work?

Floating solar panels or floatovoltaics work just how you might expect – they sit on a floating platform in water, secured in place by mooring lines or anchor-like weights.

Floatovoltaics are increasing in numbers recently, in order to reduce the pressure to build large solar farms on land. However, this has resulted in some researchers being concerned about the impact on aquatic ecosystems. They have become very popular in Southeast Asia as land available for solar panel farms has become increasingly scarce for many reasons. Of course, the search for new ways to generate and use renewable energy when it becomes difficult is very important.

The rise of floatovoltaics

According to Jun Yee Chew at Rystad Energy (a research firm based in Norway), there are currently 500 megawatts of floating solar panels in Southeast Asia, and with their popularity, this will only increase! More than a quarter of this comes from a new floating solar panel farm in Indonesia that opened in November 2023. The current prediction is that solar capacity will jump by 300 megawatts in the next few months (I will keep you posted!).

Chew’s goal is to cover Indonesia’s inland water bodies with these floatovoltaics, this could produce double the solar power that the UK produces now. With these advancements in renewable energy, it will inspire more people to use alternative methods like solar panels and be conscious of how much energy they are producing and consuming. The aim of Undertwok is to live under 2 kWh a day per person.

Some of the problems with building solar panel farms in places like Southeast Asia is the owners of the land are maintaining agricultural operations and a lot of land is dense cities. Even though the floating solar panel farms are more expensive to build, there are benefits that could outweigh this. According to Chew, the floatovoltaics produce a higher output of electricity as the water cools them off, and in reservoirs the panels can use already built hydropower infrastructure.

Another benefit of floating solar panel farms is that they reduce water loss in reservoirs and inland water bodies by reducing evaporation. In the future there are hopes to put floatovoltaics in the ocean, but currently the wind and waves cause too much damage to the solar panels.

As for the concerns about aquatic ecosystems, Peter McIntyre from Cornell University cautioned that the reduced sunlight from the solar panels covering the water surface could cause not enough oxygen production and harm the life underneath. Obviously, this is something we should strive to avoid.

Final thoughts: are floating solar panels way forward?

This is all very exciting and new. There are benefits and concerns, as with anything. The most imperative thing is to do is continue to monitor how the current solar panel farms are doing and the implications of them being on the inland water bodies. Even though there are some concerns the new ways people around the globe are contributing to healing the planet is inspirational. It is just more evidence that each of us should be doing what we can to help.

If the benefits outweigh the concerns, it will be a huge success for using renewable energy for electricity.

I hope everyone had a lovely week, and I will see you next week for another of Amy’s Hot Topics.

Bye! #2kWh #undertwok



New Scientist – floating solar power booms in South-East Asia as land becomes scarce – 1st February 2023 – James Dinneen.

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