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Why The Buzz Around Floating Solar PV?

We have said this before: floating solar is the new exotic solar these days.

From Australia, to India, to Japan, to Korea, to the US, and now Brazil, everyone has been announcing floating solar pv power projects in all shapes and sizes.

The reason these countries are in such a rush is bcause floating solar PV technology offers a number of advantages:

  • Natural evaporative cooling as a result of the water body can keep the PV panel temperatures lower than ground mounted ones, and hence boost their efficiency.Balbina Dam (Usina Hidreletrica de Balbina)
  • Typically areas with high solar energy potential tend to be dusty and arid, so in comparison to their ground mounted counterparts, floating PV system not only have to perform in a low dust environment, they can always use a sprinkler to bathe themselves clean.
  • Many of the developers who have floating PV projects in the pipeline make it a point to announce that they “reduce water evaporation to a great extent” (Side note — while water evaporation is definitely a benefit, it is questionable how much water it can really save).
  • Availability of land is a big problem. This is one of the primary reasons why Japan has been interested in the floating PV technology. If one is planning to put floating PV in dam reservoirs (Brazil and India), you can make better use of the reservoir surface, which is anyway lying idle. Also no land acquisition = happy people = no murky politics!
  • In dam reservoir-based hydro power plants, solar power can substitute hydro based generation during day time when sun is available. In such a case, the stored water in the reservoir will serve as an effective energy storage systems. One possible example would be the 350 MW plant that is expected to come up in Brazil.

A number of technology developers have been working hard to further develop and perfect these systems.

In Israel, Solaris Synergy has developed a concentrated photovoltaic technology for a floating farm that can support power output ranging from several kW to dozens of MW.

Australian start-up Sunengy has partnered with Tata Power of India to develop a similar solar system for the reservoir of a hydropower plant in Mumbai. The company has developed a concentrated solar PV array that can track the sun while staying afloat, to maximize its output.

In US, SPG (which was taken over by SunEdison) has installed what it calls “Floatovoltaics” in the water ponds of Far Niente winery, California.

Meanwhile in France, Ciel & Terre have been integrating standard PV panels with HDPE floats which are UV and corrosion-resistant.

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is a Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, New Delhi). He tweets at @indiasolarpost. Views and opinion if any, are his own.


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