As the solar industry has exploded over the past couple of decades, increased investment and research have led to more audacious, innovative solar solutions to our energy needs. Perhaps none more eye-catching than “floatovoltaics” - solar panel arrays installed on bodies of water, as opposed to more conventional land-based solar panel installations. The lure of the floating solar panel array lies in its potential cost savings and the efficiency of power generation associated with the systems.
As they don’t take up valuable pieces of land, floatovoltaics cost less than traditional land installations. In addition, some of the extra labor required for land installs, like soil treatment or the clearing of obstructions, doesn’t come into play for floating solar. With regards to energy generation, the water doesn’t just house the panels, it also plays its part in terms of performance. The water beneath the panels can lead to increased efficacy thanks to its cooling effect on the panels. Floating panels return the favour too. By shading the water, the solar arrays limit algae growth and reduce evaporation.
Further benefits include the reduced need for surface cleaning, one of the few pieces of maintenance required for solar systems, and fewer infrastructural requirements, in terms of both labor and materials. Less cleaning is necessary as floating panels are generally located away from dirt/debris sources like they are on land and fewer materials are needed as the panels don’t need to be joined to a surface, they just float.
There are still unknown variables associated with floatovoltaics that will determine the future of this innovative approach. Concerns have been raised about interference with wildlife and the lifespan of these floating systems relative to their land-based siblings. Of course, these unknowns aren’t necessarily downsides, they just require further research and, if we know anything about solar developers, we know that they’re resourceful. As research continues, and positive evidence continues to build, it’s likely we’ll see more floatovoltaics popping up across the United States.
By Shane Croghan
Featured Image Source: Martin Godwin for the Guardian