The unavailability of an infinite amount of fossil fuels and the need for the decarbonization of electricity have led the world to adopt many renewable sources of energy. Solar power has been one of the most effective and widely used renewable energy sources. But to get an adequate amount of solar power, creating solar plants is of utmost importance. Such creation requires huge tracts of land, and there is a problem with that. With the increase in population, those vast lands are also required for irrigation and urbanization. But what if solar panels could be placed on water bodies? Yes, it is possible, and this is where floating photovoltaics come in.
What Are Floatovoltaics?
Solar panel installations that are done on water bodies like basins, lakes, or reservoirs in place of any solid structures on the land are termed “floating solar plants,” “Floatovoltaics,” or “floating solar PV.” The demand for floating photovoltaics has risen profoundly due to their ability to provide clean energy and also help in wastewater management.
Chronology Of The Development Of Floatovoltaics
For generating one gigawatt (GW) of electricity, the required area for the construction of a solar power plant facility is 20 times greater than that of a conventional fossil fuel power plant. Researchers and scientists have put forward several locations, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Consider a desert, where there is little competition for land because it is unsuitable for urbanization or agricultural activities. The availability of sunshine is also abundant here, but there are certain problems. For example, if a solar panel array was placed in the Sahara Desert, the dark color of the panels would cause problems by altering global airflow patterns and raising local temperatures. A project in the Mojave Desert was responsible for lowering the cacti population which is important to the locals. Finding the right balance of logistics and getting electricity from the desert to the urban areas would also be a challenge.
A large, uniform, and shade-free plot is ideal for a solar farm as well as agricultural activities. Naturally, this has created a tussle between the solar development plants and the farming community. With the increase in population, the demand for land has also increased. All these became driving factors for the concept of Floatovoltaics which can be put on man-made or natural water bodies where the water is calm. The first patents for floating solar panels date back to 2007 and were registered by countries like Japan, the USA, France, Italy, and Denmark. It was first in 2011, when Floatovoltaics saw large-scale usage, and their installation took place in California’s Napa Valley. Until 2013, the projects that were built around the world were capable of producing only a few dozen kWp. From 2016 onwards, the market saw the growth for Floatovoltaics and by 2025 it is predicted to create 10 GW.
Working System Of Floatovoltaics
The working system of Floatovoltaics is quite similar to the solar panels that are installed on land. Solar energy is first captured using solar panels and then converted into DC electricity. By using combiner boxes, the DC current is then collected and transformed into AC electricity with the help of inverters. Before sending the required amount of electricity to the transmission lines, the AC electricity is converted into voltage. The key point of difference in Floatovoltaics is that anchoring and mooring systems are used to keep the array of solar panels afloat and prevent it from drifting away with the solar panels facing toward the Sun.
The solar panels are directly arranged on buoyant polymer floats or on metal structures that are connected to pontoons. Mooring and anchoring are not always necessary and it also depends on the location of the project. Compared to land projects Floatovoltaics does not also require much civil work or the use of large machinery. Temperature conditions must be taken into account, and adequate materials must be used while building such projects otherwise, it could hamper the structural integrity and cause disaster.
Advantages Of Floatovoltaics
There are ample amount of reasons why Floatovoltaics market has grown in these years. Some of the advantages are:
Economic Construction: As mentioned in the early part of the blog, Floatovoltaics does not require land, which reduces the cost of acquiring one. Floatovoltaics requires fewer metal sheets when compared to a roof or ground-based installation and thus also needs less manpower. Without a doubt, installing Floatovoltaics costs 20-25% more than installing solar panels on land-based projects, but it is still economically viable.
Optimization Of Hybrid System: Suppose Floatovoltaics are built on hydroelectricity-producing dams, the already existing structures for electrical transmission can not only reduce the cost of the whole venture but also transmission losses. This hybrid system can also work in a fine balance where, during the day, solar energy is at its peak and can provide electricity while hydropower can generate electricity at night.
High performance And Efficiency: In high temperatures, solar panels are less efficient than in colder temperatures. The water acts as a natural coolant for the solar panels in the Floatovoltaics which in turn has increased their performance and efficiency by 11% when compared to the solar panels present on the land.
Loss Minimization: As the Floatovoltaics are present in water, cleaning them is quite easy compared to that of the solar panels present on the land which get washed with a fair amount of dust. No tree covers or shades are required to be removed to install Floatovoltaics which is an advantage. The array of solar panels also prevents evaporation by shading the water, which is extremely beneficial for arid areas.
Algae Reduction: An algal bloom is a serious problem that frequently causes health problems in both humans and animals. Algal bloom does not allow sunlight to get through the water, which is important for aquatic plants or animals to survive. Floatovoltaics shade the water and do not allow the sunlight to touch the surface of the water, which mitigates the chance of an algae bloom.
Disadvantages Of Floatovoltaics
Floatovoltaics have numerous beneficial effects, but they also present a number of challenges. Some of them are:
Construction Expense: Though the land is not required, the construction of a Floatovoltaics project can be difficult and costly in some cases. Expenses mostly rise due to the special planning required for turbulent waters and also for complex mooring and anchoring systems.
Electrical Precautions: Creating and operating something related to electricity in water bodies is extremely dangerous, and a slight mistake can cause accidents. Robust electrical equipment and strict procedures, along with boats and diving personnel, are required for smooth functioning. This is both time-consuming and expensive.
Environmental Effect: Yes, it is true that Floatovoltaics will mitigate algae blooms by preventing sunlight from falling on the surface of the water. But this reduction in sunlight will lessen the photosynthetic activities of aquatic plants and phytoplankton, which in turn will reduce the amount of oxygen, and that can be quite dangerous for aquatic animals.
Hampering Livelihood: Floatovoltaics when built on reservoirs, can hamper the livelihood of many people. Fisheries built on these reservoirs will not be able to operate properly if there were solar panels floating on the water’s surface. The presence of Floatovoltaics may also affect the scenic beauty and recreational uses of the reservoir.
Operational Problems: Floatovoltaics outputs can decrease due to biofouling by microbial biofilms or bird feces. Though cleaning the panels frequently is a tedious job, still it has to be done by companies. Natural disasters like floods and cyclones can also hamper such projects.
Early Developmental Stage: Floatovoltaics are very much in their nascent stage, and extracting huge amounts of electricity from them is still an ongoing process. Many companies often find this factor unsuitable for investing their capital, which is the primary requirement of such projects.
Floatovoltaics Around The World
Among the many operational Floatovoltaics plants, the most popular are:
Dezhou Dingzhuang: Huaneng International, the Chinese power giant, has already completed the second phase of the Dezhou Dingzhuang Floatovoltaics, which has the ability to produce 320 MW. This is the world’s largest project at the moment, and the company has also implanted a 100 MW wind farm and energy storage of 8 MWh.
Tata Power Solar: Located in Kerala, India Tata Power Solar is built on 350 acres of backwaters area and has the ability to produce around 100 MW of power.
Tengeh: This is Singapore’s first large-scale floating solar plant, built in the Tengeh Reservoir and capable of producing 60 MW at peak.
Currently, most of the projects are built on man-made water bodies, but an exploration into the offshores must surely be on the list for companies. Offshore projects cannot have traditional solar panels as they would not be able to withstand harsh climatic conditions. Thin and flexible solar panel films can serve as an answer that can tackle the waves. It goes without saying that developers will explore many different fields regarding Floatovoltaics in the future as it has the true potential to become a beacon of light for renewable energy.