Project Management Institute

Learning to Float

Solar Farms on Water Are Making a Splash

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Kyocera TCL Solar's floating solar plant on the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Ichihara, Japan

PHOTO COURTESY OF KYOCERA TCL

Project teams are taking solar on a virtual boat ride, creating floating farms that gain maximum exposure to the sun. In India, plans are underway for the government to set up a 1,000-megawatt floating solar park at the Indira Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh, India. Once built, it will dwarf the current largest array (a 150-megawatt project in Anhui, China) and nearly double the entire global floating photovoltaic (FPV) capacity in 2018.

The project is just one of a growing number that aim to take an early renewable-energy darling, solar panels, and put them on pontoons. The business case for such setups is bolstered by the fact that floating solar panels don't require vast tracts of valuable land. Instead, FPVs can drift on largely unused bodies of water, such as hydroelectric dam reservoirs, wastewater treatment ponds or drinking-water reservoirs. A solar panel cover can also help prevent evaporation on these reservoirs, and floating panels tend to be more energy-efficient because of the water's natural cooling effect. FPVs can produce about 5 percent more electricity than traditional solar panels, Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist with the World Bank, told Reuters.

In October, FPV company Ciel & Terre USA completed a project to build a 4.4-megawatt FPV project at a water-treatment facility in Sayreville, New Jersey, USA.

“We entered into this project knowing that we had limited land available for a solar installation near the water treatment plant, and the opportunity for a floating solar array has exceeded our expectations,” Dan Frankel, the town's business administrator, told Solar Industry magazine. “It's an ideal approach that makes better use of our pretreatment pond while dramatically reducing energy costs and offsetting the town's carbon footprint.”

Even as floating arrays become larger and more common, companies are pushing into deeper waters. For instance, in July, Belgium energy company DEME began exploring the feasibility of developing the world's first high-wave offshore solar farm.—Amanda Hermans

Making a Splash

400 gigawatts

Estimated potential global floating photovoltaic (FPV) capacity

10 megawatts

The amount of installed FPV capacity in 2014

1.1 gigawatts

The amount of installed FPV capacity in September 2018

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Submersed in Solar

2007: First FPV system, a 20-kilowatt-peak (kWp) research prototype, is installed in Aichi Province, Japan.

2008: A 175-kWp FPV installation at Far Niente Winery in Oakville, California, USA becomes the first commercial system.

2010: The first tracking FPV system, which can follow the movements of the sun, is installed at Petra Winery in Suvereto, Italy.

2013: The first megawatt-scale FPV system is installed in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

2014: Swimsol, the first FPV system made for saltwater, is developed.

2016: An FPV installation in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan uses micro-inverters, which can convert a direct current from the panel into an alternating current.

2017: A project at Alto Rabagão Dam in Montalegre, Portugal combines floating solar and hydro power in the same initiative for the first time. The solar panel installation increases the power plant's peak capacity by 220 kilowatts.

2018: The world's largest FPV array, at 150 megawatts, comes online in Anhui, China.

October 2019: India's principal secretary of new and renewable energy announces that work is expected to begin by mid-2020 on the world's largest floating solar park.

Sources: Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, World Bank, Scheuch Family Foundation, Renewable Energy World, Times of India

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FPV installation at Far Niente Winery in Oakville, California, USA

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Swimsol's platform in Baa Atoll, Maldives

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FVP array in Anhui, China

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