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Published on November 24th, 2018 | by Charles W. Thurston


LA Studying Floating Solar Feasibility On Water Reservoir

November 24th, 2018 by  

On July 2, the LA City Council approved a proposal for a 11.6 MW floating solar pilot plant on the Van Norman water reservoir within the LA Department of Water & Power system, in a unanimous vote of present council members. The proposal included instructions for LADWP to report back to the council on the feasibility of the floating solar system program, the next steps of implementation, the optimal system size, how much energy can be created, the environmental offsets, and the economic impact it would have on the city.

Apart from this scoping and impact study, instructions were for the LADPW to prepare bid qualifications for floating solar system providers, including a minimum of 50 MW of such systems already installed, as well as US manufacturing capability. The reservoir is located in Granada Hills, adjacent to two high-voltage transmission lines and the Sylmar Converter Station, making it possible to connect solar energy directly to the grid, according to a Council-commissioned study by the city Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee.

LADWP is the nation’s largest municipal electric utility and supplies over 26 million megawatt-hours each year to approximately 1.5 million electric service connections in Los Angeles, as well as 5,000 customer connections in the Owens Valley, according to the department.

The pilot proposal, sponsored by Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, also sought an analysis by the LADPW of the potential for reusing the 96 million black plastic floating “shade” balls now covering the reservoir. The committee document noted that “the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires water utilities to cover open-air reservoirs that hold treated water in order to prevent contamination.”

One analysis of the use of the black balls found that “LADWP installed millions of floating black plastic balls over many of its reservoirs to reduce evaporation during California’s drought, at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars. Two side benefits reported for the initiative included the temperature reduction in the reservoirs, which reduced chlorination costs due to lower levels of algae growth, and reduction in levels of carcinogenic chemicals being synthesized in the water (since such chemical reactions occur in the presence of higher temperatures and higher incidence of sunlight).”

The cost of the pilot, much less of a full-scale plant, has not yet been estimated. The committee study noted that “neither the City Administrative Officer nor the Chief Legislative Analyst has completed a financial analysis of this report.”

Englander told local news station ABC7 in April that, “What we’re looking at is creating some kind of public-private partnership with an opportunity for some vendors to get involved in a power purchase agreement where we’re not actually spending any money, or very little out in front of it, and we’re getting it all in return because we’re generating our own power.”

At the time of the proposal presentation in April, LADWP Chief Operation Officer Marty Adams said, “If we can protect water, protect water quality, protect evaporation and at the same time leverage the space for solar needs to help our plans for the future, we have a great opportunity.”

Adams also said that, “We want to thank Councilman Englander for introducing this motion that will help get the ball(s) rolling here in the City. The Los Angeles reservoirs provide hundreds of acres of local surface area that can be used as a platform for capturing solar energy.”

One of the companies expected to bid on the LADPW project is Ciel & Terre, which has installed floating solar systems in a dozen countries after early deployment in California. “Deploying a floating solar array on manmade bodies of water improves energy production by keeping the solar system cooler. At the same time it reduces evaporation, controls algae growth, and reduces water movement to minimize bank erosion,” said Eva Pauly-Bowles, the representative director for Ciel & Terre USA, based in Petaluma, CA. “Floating solar arrays also make optimal use of pond surfaces, providing clean solar energy without committing expensive real estate or requiring rooftop installations,” she said upon the completion of two floating solar projects in California earlier this month. 

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About the Author

Charles specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. Among key areas of focus are bifacial panels and solar tracking. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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