Alex Reice, Special Correspondent
In countries across the globe, a new green energy source is popping up: floating solar plants, or “floatovoltaics”. In recent years with the string of record breaking hot months, many countries have been scrambling to find cost effective and environmentally friendly sources of power. For some countries, including London and Japan, floating solar plants seem to be the answer.
On the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, 50,904 solar panels will float atop the water in about 2 years. The solar panels will generate enough electricity to power almost 5,000 homes, according to the company building the solar plant, Kyocera. That is enough to offset 8,170 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, the amount put into the atmosphere by consuming 19,000 barrels of oil. This solar plant will be the largest of its kind in the world, and the company is developing at least 10 more similar projects. Floating solar plants have also appeared in the United States and Australia. The growing popularity of these solar arrays is in part due to the growth of the solar market and the drop in cost of the technology.
In Jamestown, Australia, a similar floating solar plant is being built. It went into operation last year, and was constructed so that the plant generates almost 57% more energy than a rooftop solar plant. The panels are placed a on a tracking system that moves them to maximize sunlight over the course of the day, and they are coated to prevent corrosion. The same company responsible for the plant in Australia, Infratech Industries, is working on a similar one in Southern California. The nonprofit Sonoma Clean Power has also announced its plan to build the largest floating solar project in the United States.
In California, the Far Niente winery was ahead of the curve, constructing the world’s first large-scale floatovoltaic system in 2008. The company placed 994 solar panels on pontoons over an irrigation pond. The plant cost around 4.2 million dollars and took around two and a half years to design and build, but Greg Allen, an employee at the winery, said the system should pay for itself by 2020. And, the solar panels don’t seem to affect the health of the pond or the organisms living in it.
In London, Europe’s largest floating solar farm has recently been completed. The farm is an array of 23,000 solar panels on the Queen Elizabeth 2 reservoir at Walton-on-Thames. The 6 million euro project will create enough electricity to power the utility’s local water treatment plants, providing clean drinking water to around 10 million people in the area, which is a large and unrecognised use of electricity.
Floating solar arrays may be even more economically efficient than solar plants on land. Renting or buying land is more expensive, and there are less regulations for things built on bodies of water not used for recreation. Floating solar plants can also be hidden from public view. And, the panels keep water from evaporating, which may be beneficial in areas affected by drought and they’re more efficient than land-based panels because water cools the panels.
With energy costs rising and clean energy becoming more in demand, floating solar plants may soon be appearing on reservoirs near you.