Post-pandemic recovery has plunged the world into an energy crisis. There is a need for sustainable action as the global economy battles energy shortages and hiking fuel prices.

In such times, turning to solar or wind energy reduces our reliance on conventional energy sources like fossil fuels significantly. The World Bank has also provided monetary encouragement to countries to build solar projects.

By the end of 2020, the US alone could power 23.3 million homes by harnessing solar energy from their installed plants. However, the American solar workforce saw a 7% decrease between 2019 and 2020.

One of the major concerns throughout the world with installing solar panels has been adequate space. What if there was a way to use the nearest water bodies for solar energy production while improving their water quality? With newer creations in solar technology, we draw closer to the answer.

Read ahead to find out all there is to know about this low-carbon, sustainable energy source.

Floating Solar Panels: What Are They?

Floating photovoltaics or floatovoltaics are emerging technology in the solar industry. These solar panels are mounted on floating structures and hover on stagnant water bodies like ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.

Floating solar panels have shown about 10% greater efficiency than traditional on-ground solar panels. They also come with a tremendous environmental impact, thus boosting the ecosystem.

Aerial View of Floating Solar Panels

Need for Floating Solar Power

You might face various challenges while installing solar panels for domestic use. Your rooftop might lack space, or there might be shade or obstructions to sunlight.

People opt for solar canopies or ground mounts for larger projects. Also, full-scale solar power plants take up anywhere between ten to a hundred acres of land. Owners could otherwise use this land could otherwise be used for agriculture or industrial purposes.

Installing floating solar panels can be the solution to all these problems.

Here are some advantages of a floating array plant that extend beyond energy generation.

Increased Power Generation

In high temperatures, the efficiency of a land-based solar array decreases. This characteristic is a significant concern for people living in regions with a hot climate, which has the best potential to create solar energy.

Floating solar panels do not face this problem. The water body they float on provides a cooling effect, thereby maintaining their performance in all types of temperatures. Thus, on the whole, floating solar panels are more efficient than the ones on land.

Valuable Land Space Preserved

The most obvious benefit of floating solar is that there is no loss of land space. These panels are usually set up on unused and stagnant water bodies like wastewater treatment ponds, drinking water, or hydroelectric dams reservoirs.

Thus, landowners can repurpose their properties and contribute to the economy in other ways. Plus, there is no longer a need for land clearing or cutting down trees to make space for solar array installations.

Healthier Environment

A floating PV array does not just take energy from the sun. It also gives back to the environment a slew of benefits.

  • Renewable Energy: These solar panels are a source of clean, green energy. They mitigate the effects of pollutants and greenhouse gases, making the environment safer for all life forms.
  • Reduced Evaporation: In hot regions, water bodies dry up very quickly during the summer months. Having floating solar panels on the water surface of reservoirs and lakes prevents water loss or draughts in susceptible areas.
  • Prevents Algae: Freshwater contamination from algae blooming is curbed by the presence of floating panels. This keeps the water fit for human consumption and helps aquatic plants and animals.

Low Maintenance

Ground-based solar systems require frequent maintenance due to over-heating issues. They also demand regular land upkeep, as opposed to floating solar projects, which are way easier to maintain.

Floating Solar Panels Platform

What Forms a Floating Solar Panel?

The construction of floating solar power plants involves a fair share of shore and in-water work. A floating solar array requires a stable platform for mounting. The floats are put together on land and then sent into the water to be arranged.

The following are the nine components of a floating PV system.

PV modules

A panel made of connected PV cells harness the sun’s energy and convert it into viable form. They are the drivers of any floating solar array.

Floaters

They are the plastic rafts or pontoons that carry the solar panels on the water. A stable floater is crucial to protect the solar panel from any harm due to moisture.

Electrical Safety Anchoring and Mooring System

Floating arrays are anchored using a mooring system. The process requires cabling, making the float adaptable to changing water levels.

Anchors are present at the water’s bed and provide additional support to the floaters. Vertical load, suction anchors, and drag embedded are commonly used anchor types.

Mooring lines connect the floater to the anchor below. The choice of mooring line depends on the weight of PV panels to be carried. Choosing the right one will help you avoid any mooring issues.

Combiner Box and Central Inverter

An electrical dispersal box that holds the DC breakers. It takes the DC outputs from all the individual solar panels and merges them into a single output. The inverter converts the DC to AC to be transmitted as electrical energy to nearby houses.

Transformer

A transformer is used to step up the voltage for easier electricity transmission through long distances.

Cabling and Transmission System

The electrical wiring integrates the solar panels, combiner, inverter, and transformer. Inverters are usually placed on the shore to ensure electrical safety and make the cables less susceptible to water damage. The connection line carries the solar-generated electricity wherever needed.

Floating Walkways

Walkways are an essential maintenance feature. They provide a direct path to access the panels from the inland whenever they need servicing.

How Do Floating Solar Panels Work?

Floating solar panels function similar to the ground-based panels except for a few minor differences.

The photovoltaic solar cells on the panels are hit by sunlight, causing the excitation of electrons within the semiconductor. The movement of these energized electrons creates an electrical current.

The output from the panels travels to the combiner. DC circuit breakers are placed in its path to secure the system against any overloads. All DC outputs are merged into a single DC signal and sent to the inverter in the combiner.

The inverter converts the DC signal to AC. The AC is then stepped up using a transformer to be carried over long distances without any significant losses. The transmission line ensures that the current reaches the people who need it!

Floating Solar Panels

Costs and Installation

After garnering information on the working of these fantastic systems, you might be interested in installing one yourself! Here is everything you need to know!

How Much Do Floatovoltaics Cost?

Floating solar panels can be costly. Almost half the price of the entire system is just for the floaters.

Assembling 1 Megawatt floating solar power plants can cost you $1 to $1.2 million. Yes, that is a mammoth amount, but you do not have to spend repeatedly and enjoy many cost benefits.

Quick Tip: Set up your floating solar plants in a pre-existing hydrothermal powerplant. This way, you will not have to spend on transmission and distribution of the power generated.

Installing Floating Photovoltaic Panels

The design for your floating solar power plant will differ based on these factors.

  • PV module type available to you
  • Function of the water body
  • Orientation of your solar panels
  • Water coverage needed for your plant

The process of installation begins with anchoring. It ensures the longevity of your system. Deep holes are dug in the seafloor. The anchors are inserted into them until they are far down enough to be stable. They must hold the weight of the floaters and the solar panel.

The next step is to arrange floaters on the water surface. Then, a mooring line is used to connect the floater to the anchor such that it remains fixed in an optimum sunlight-seeking position.

Then, you install floating solar panels on the floater and make the necessary electrical connections. Once the system is installed, then comes to the construction of floating walkways alongside the panels.

To install a complete floating solar power plant or even a smaller floating solar project, you need to hire a team of qualified marine engineers and solar technicians. Without the technical know-how, you might encounter problems with your setup.

Are There Any Disadvantages of FPVs?

This one’s a crucial pointer! While the advantages are in heaps and bounds, this technology has certain drawbacks too.

Firstly, the initial cost can be a tad bit high. Setting up a floating solar power plant requires capital. These solar projects basically tend to be large-scale. There is no feasible alternative for household use yet. They remain an excellent project for large communities or companies anywhere in the world.

Secondly, cleaning the panels can be a hassle. Although a solar plant is inexpensive to maintain, it still needs regular attention in terms of cleaning. In comparison to ground-based panels, that might seem inconvenient.

Lastly, if the placement of the floating panels is not planned correctly, it may cause a shortage of sunlight in the deeper reaches of the water body. There is a practice guide to follow to avoid these cases.

People also tend to have concerns about corrosion of the panels. Built specifically for the waters, floating solar panels are coated with corrosion-resistant materials. This makes them extremely water friendly. They can even survive frozen water.

Although they could be installed in moving water, they will wear out faster. That is why installing them on calm waters, like lakes or man-made bodies like ponds, is recommended. Dam reservoirs are even better. This will prevent any possible harm from excessive water or waves.

Floating Solar Panel Farm

Comparison Between Ground-based and Floating Solar Plant

Floatovoltaics are an ideal solution to the problems with conventional solar panels. Here is a quick summary of the differences between the two.

  • Space Required: A 1MW capacity floating PV power plant needs around 5-10 acres to be set up on land. On the other hand, a 1MW capacity floating solar power plant needs only around 2 acres of space.
  • Ease of Installation: Traditional systems are easier to install. They are also easy to access for servicing. FPV installation involves working inside water which can be more complicated than land-based installations.
  • Maintenance: Repeated maintenance is required due to overheating issues for conventional PV arrays. Water has a natural cooling effect and prevents overheating of the floating PV system.
  • Performance: Land PV performance can be dampened by electrical heating. FPV has higher efficiency consistently.

Explore Your Solar Options

Remember, your new floating solar plant can be installed in integration with an existing hydroelectric plant to save on initial costs. You get a reservoir to tap into, and the reservoir also benefits from the environmental benefits of the project.

Also, your floating solar panels might seem like regular PV cells, but they are a little enhanced. They are modified to be water and freeze-resistant.

Floating solar plants are in their infancy. This technology is yet to grow to its full potential, but it already seems like an up-and-coming technological development.

If you are looking for clean, renewable energy investments, this is a step in the right direction!