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How Do Floating Solar Panels Differ From Their Grounded Cousins?

Adding to the traditional solar land arrays in recent years is the newer technology of floating solar panels. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Adding to the traditional solar land arrays in recent years is the newer technology of floating solar panels. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The solar market is continuing to grow year-by-year as the world searches for new ways to reduce global warming and the burning of fossil fuels. Adding to the traditional solar land arrays in recent years is the newer technology of floating solar panels.

Like their grounded cousins, floating solar panels receive their energy from the sun and are cost-efficient. However, these solar arrays float on top of water on a lake, pond, or canal to maximize the advantages of the water’s natural sun attraction properties.

The water keeps the panels cooler, so they work efficiently even during the hotter months. These panels can also adjust to receive the sun’s strongest rays throughout the day and take less time to install. With land in short supply in many areas, floating solar panels are less costly than the traditional land solar panels and can produce megawatts of electricity while using less acreage.

Floating solar technology does have its challenges. Protecting the electrical systems of the solar panel arrays is crucial. To prevent the cables from short-circuiting, all cables must have the proper rating and junction boxes are waterproofed. Although there are fewer regulations for floating panels on bodies of water not used by the public, traditional land panels receive less wind, need a smaller amount of maintenance, and may cost less to install.

Like their grounded cousins, floating solar panels receive their energy from the sun and are cost-efficient. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Like their grounded cousins, floating solar panels receive their energy from the sun and are cost-efficient. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

How floating solar farms operate

Floating solar panels connect to each other and lie on top of the water, absorbing the solar energy from the reflective power from the water’s surface. This photovoltaics (PV) technology incorporates a cooling effect on the panels.

Depending on the acreage and the number of panels required, the floating panels can power thousands of homes at once. In Japan, the floating solar farm at the Yamakura Dam reservoir should produce 16,170 megawatt (MW) hours per year and provide electricity to 5,000 homes once completed in 2018.

Traditional land solar arrays require 25 acres of land for every five megawatts produced. This means for every 5MW installed, 1,515 homes can receive solar power for one year. Land solar panels do not move and require very little maintenance.

Other than the manufacturing process, both types of solar panels do not generate waste or by-products, meaning less of an environmental impact.

Countries incorporating floating and land solar technology

Many of the countries with land shortages or droughts are incorporating floating solar technology. Japan and China, countries with little real estate for power plants and land solar panels, are using inland bodies of water to power thousands of homes. China recently completed a floating solar project on top of a fish farm that will provide 100,000 homes with electricity. Floating solar panels are advantageous to the flora and fauna in the water by decreasing algae growth and reducing water evaporation.

The United States and Brazil are implementing floating PV technology to combat drought, and it’s spreading over the world. Here are a few examples.

To prevent the cables from short-circuiting, all cables must have the proper rating and junction boxes are waterproofed. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

To prevent the cables from short-circuiting, all cables must have the proper rating and junction boxes are waterproofed. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Winery doubles down on solar

A winery in California, Far Niente, uses a combination of a land solar array and floating solar panels to power the business while keeping the vineyards free of excess panels.

The change made three years ago has allowed the company to offset 100 percent of its electricity. Located on a retention pond, the system floats on pontoons and is secured by a racking system and a mooring system. It adapts to the change in water levels and up to 85 mph winds.

Floating solar farm pops up in Australia

The first section of a floating solar farm in Jamestown, Australia, was recently completed. The installation should produce 20 percent more power than land-based solar panels and 57 percent more energy than roof-top solar plants.

London sources clean drinking water

In London, on the Walton-on-Thames Queen Elizabeth II reservoir, sits a new floating solar project made of 23,000 solar panels that provide clean drinking water to 10 million residents in and around the city.

A winery in California, Far Niente, uses a combination of a land solar array and floating solar. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A winery in California, Far Niente, uses a combination of a land solar array and floating solar. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Roof-top solar energy in San Diego

Places that cannot use floating solar technology are using innovative roof-top solar technology. In North San Diego County in California, a solar carport system serves thousands of residents while covering a fleet and employee parking lot at Vallecitos Water District.

The continued growth of solar technology

The revenue for both traditional and floating solar technology markets continues to grow. The floating solar panel market may double this year and reach a worth of $2.7 billion by the year 2025. Market revenue may see 50 percent combined annual growth rate from now through 2020.

The demand for solar energy is increasing. In the United States, GTM Research forecasts an annual install rate of 20GW or more by the year 2021. Where will floating solar panels be used next? The answer seems to be just about anywhere.

Untitled-150x150This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her page Schooled by Science.

 

 

 

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