Floating photovoltaic (FPV) panels are a relatively new method by which renewable energy can be produced.
These systems can be anchored on seas, lakes, ponds, puddles, canals or reservoirs. Their great advantage is that they do not take up land, which can instead be used for agriculture.
These systems have begun to gain popularity in Asia and Europe. On the Old Continent, with its small size and population of 746 million, floating solar panels are preferred because the available land is limited.
A second big advantage of floating systems is that they can be installed near hydropower plants and connected to the grid quickly and cheaply. Thus, countries that rely on hydropower for electricity generation are very interested in this new technology.
According to a study funded by the European Commission, in Africa, covering just 1% of a hydropower plant’s surface area with floating photovoltaic panels can increase the plant’s annual output by 50%.
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The largest floating solar farms, with capacities of more than 1.5 GW, have been built in China and India. Other countries with large solar farms of this kind include Brazil, Portugal and Singapore.
South Korea had intended to build a 2.1 GW farm on the Yellow Sea coast, but a change of government put plans on hold. It was to include 5 million solar modules and cover an area of 30 square kilometres. The project is estimated to cost $4bn.
New technology, high costs
Technology is not 100 percent secure. A fire broke out in 2019 at a farm in Japan containing 50,000 floating panels. A typhoon superimposed several solar panels, and because of the heat generated they caught fire. This danger is, however, almost non-existent on lakes or ponds far from shore.
By far the biggest barrier to the adoption of this new technology is the price. The cost of a floating farm is significantly higher, but over time the money is recouped. Panels on the surface of the water don’t overheat as much as those on the ground and so are more efficient at high temperatures. What’s more, the water temperature drops below the farm, which reduces the problem of algae that clogs many standing waters.
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