Solar panels have become increasingly popular in both residential and commercial use over the last decade. They are typically installed on rooftops or open ground, but there is a new type of solar panel emerging onto the market that you may not have heard of - floating solar panels.
What Are Floating Solar Panels?
Floating solar panels, also known as floating solar farms or floating photovoltaics, are solar panels installed on top of bodies of water, such as lakes, water reservoirs, ponds, and even the ocean. These panels are designed to float on the surface of the water rather than being ground mounted. Floating solar installations are used for the same purpose as traditional solar panels, primarily to generate clean energy electricity.
However, there are several additional benefits to using floating solar panels, such as increased efficiency. Ground-mounted solar farms tend to get overheated and need to be cooled to have good solar energy efficiency. Solar panels floating on the surface of the water are kept cool by the surrounding water, which helps maintain and even increase solar panel efficiency. They also help reduce water evaporation rates, which is essential for areas with drought-like conditions.
How Do Floating Solar Farms Work?
Floating solar panels work the same as traditional solar panels with the added function of floating on top of the water. They are connected to an inverter that converts the direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which is compatible with the electrical grid. The electricity generated from the floating solar panels can be used immediately, stored in batteries, or sent to the grid.
To keep these solar panels floating on bodies of water using flotation devices. These are usually engineered from high-density thermoplastic or buoyant materials, such as polyethylene or polystyrene, which are both lightweight and resistant to corrosion. The floating structure not only supports the weight of the solar panels but also includes provisions for mooring to ensure the array remains in place against wind and waves.
There are various types of technology used for floating solar panels. Some companies use modular floating systems, which allow for quick and easy installation and maintenance. These systems typically use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and are resistant to UV rays and weathering. Other companies incorporate different technologies like floating platforms and rubber mounts to support and ground the floating panels.
Where Are Floating Solar Farms Being Used in the U.S.?
Several groups of people can benefit from the use of floating solar farms. One significant benefit is that they can be installed on water surfaces that are often not utilized or have limited use. For example, landowners and companies near bodies of water can use floating solar panels to generate electricity without having to acquire more land. Also, municipalities facing drought and water shortage issues can significantly reduce the amount of water vaporization by offering floating solar farms.
Currently, there are several established floating solar farms in the United States, including those in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. One of the largest floating solar farms is located in the Sonoma County Water Agency in California. The $8 million project comprises 4,000 floating solar panels and is expected to yield 2.7 million kWh of electricity annually.
Del-Co Water Company, a nonprofit cooperative located in north central Ohio, is proactively seeking opportunities to integrate solar power into its operations. However, the expansion of urban areas around Columbus has limited the availability of suitable land for establishing solar farms. One of the potential benefits of utilizing solar panels is the reduction in algae growth within the water bodies.
Floating solar technology has gained modest traction in the United States in recent years, and it is anticipated to gain significant momentum as more companies seek to leverage federal incentives for solar energy while circumventing land-use conflicts and high costs associated with traditional solar installations.
According to research conducted by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), incorporating floating solar systems into even a small fraction of the country's lakes, ponds, and reservoirs has the potential to generate 10 percent of the current electricity production in the U.S. The NREL assessed over 24,000 man-made water bodies suitable for floating solar installations, many of which are located in regions characterized by high land costs and electricity prices.
Floating solar panels are an innovative solution that can provide renewable energy generation, save water, and allow for efficient use of otherwise unused water. The technology used allows for greater efficiency and a practical method for generating electricity for affiliated electrical grids or stored for later use. It's an option for landowners and companies to have a way to generate electricity by taking advantage of the surplus and otherwise unused natural resources.