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Could the Future of Solar be all at Sea?

Qihan Geng permanent-hires, Renewable Energy, Permanent...

Could the Future of Solar be all at Sea?

By Qihan Geng, APAC Lead, qihan@greenrecruitmentcompany.com

Floating Solar also known as Floating Photovoltaic (FPV)/Flotovoltaics is enjoying a rapid rise amongst renewable energy technology. For those unfamiliar, it is an array of solar panels that float on top of a body of water, usually mounted on a buoyant structure to keep them afloat.

Tradition solar panels are land hungry. For countries with dense population or rapid urbanisation as seen in Asia a developing answer to energy needs is to install floating solar panels above artificial reservoirs, dams, and lakes. Out of the total 1.1 gigawatts of floating solar capacity worldwide, 450MW is based in Asian countries including China, Japan, India, and South Korea.

Flotovoltaics vs Traditional PV

Floating solar panels aren’t just a gimmick they enjoy some significant technical advantages over traditional PV solutions:

  1. Floating solar panels installations can be deployed in currently unused space without the usual site clearance challenges.
  2. Floating solar panels are proved to be more efficient as the water bodies cool down the panel in a hot and sunny climate thus increasing the overall power output.
  3. The floating panel structure provides shade to the water bodies and reduces evaporation which prevents water shortage. The shade also prevents the growth of algae blooms in water that is harmful to aquatic life. 
  4. Floating power plants are more compact than traditional solar panels and they are easy to install and manage.
  5. Another advantage of floating solar panels is that they can be installed near a hydropower plant site, offering co-location benefits.

Asia is leading the way on Floating Solar

Despite the first floating solar project being installed in the USA, it is in Asia and particularly China where the technology has taken off. Most of the recent FPV developments have taken place in China and it is China that is home to the world’s largest floating solar farm (which is 40MW and powers 15,000 homes). Elsewhere in Asia Thailand’s hydropower plants also offer ideal staging for floating solar panels. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has planned to install a 45MW floating power plant above Sirindhorn Dam in the country's northeast.

Countries like Singapore, Japan, and India are also investing in floating solar panel technology. Singapore is developing one of the world’s largest offshore floating solar systems in the Strait of Johor. Japan has also installed 60 such projects.

It is clear that Asia is ideally suited to the mass deployment of floating solar and this is being matched by world leading innovation in the field from within Asian countries.

Ultimately the appeal of Floating Solar will come from its superior efficiency to traditional PV. Innovation in China serving to reduce unit cost to allow competition on price as well as capability, the future of solar could be all at sea.