Why Floating Solar Panels May be Coming to a Reservoir Near You

By June 27, 2016civic, solar

From rooftops to large swaths of the desert, surface area is the key to solar power generation. Now, businesses are looking at another type of surface: water.

Using floating solar panels, often referred to as floatovoltaics, bodies of water like lakes or reservoirs can be turned into energy-generating installations. It’s a new opportunity for the burgeoning solar industry and augurs well for future growth.

Benefits of “Floating Solar” Abound

Avoiding the problem of costly land acquisition, floating solar arrays take advantage of the low price of buying or leasing water surface, as well as faster and cheaper construction compared to most land-based installations. They can be used on reservoirs with the added benefits of preventing the formation of algae and reducing evaporation. The cooling effect of the water also increases the efficiency of the panels’ energy generation.

What can’t be seen is also important. In most cases, these floating solar arrays are out of public view, providing an opportunity for solar generation in communities opposed to public projects that may alter the local landscape.

A Surge of Installations

Rafts of these solar panels are currently being used in both Australia and the United States. In order to function effectively on water, the solar panels are coated to prevent corrosion and set on a tracking system that moves them to maximize sunlight. In Oakville, California, Far Niente winery eliminated its energy costs by installing a floating solar array on an irrigation pond, saving valuable vineyard space. Solar panels were placed on top of foam-filled plastic pontoons constructed out of drainpipes.

Japan is also a receptive market. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, solar power became an increasingly popular energy alternative in the country. While large tracts of land are limited, water surface is more abundant, making floating solar a desirable option. Construction is currently underway on the world’s largest such installation in Yamakura Dam Reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture. Upon the project’s completion, its 50,904 panels will generate 16,170 megawatt hours each year, enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes.

Part of the Growing Solar Market

The use of solar panels on water surface is another sign of sun-based energy reaching a critical mass around the world. Driven by increased government initiatives, in addition to prospective environmental regulations stemming from the recent Paris Agreement, solar’s market share is poised for continued growth.

Already, California has committed to obtaining 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and 50% by 2030. Solar is essential to meeting this target and earlier this year it surpassed wind as the state’s top renewable source.

California remains one of the best states for solar, both because of this environmental push and its favorable laws for homeowners installing solar on their property. San Francisco recently mandated rooftop solar in all newly built residential and commercials properties in the city.

Whereas states like California, Arizona, and Nevada have ample open land for solar power plants, space is more limited across much of the East Coast. A combination of rooftop solar and water-installed solar could help to fill the gap.

Interested in finding out more about how installing solar panels on your rooftop can help you drive your electric bill down to zero? Contact us today for a free quote.