Research: Floating Photovoltaics Show Potential
Researchers based out of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated that the use of floating solar photovoltaics on more than 24,000 manmade reservoirs in the U.S. could contribute 10 percent of annual national electricity production.
Though the U.S. was among the first to demonstrate floating UV panels, technology deployment on a national level has consistently favored large-scale, ground-mounted solar panels.
The first installation occurred 10 years ago on pontoons on an irrigation pond in Napa Valley, California. As of December 2017, there were only seven floating PV sites in the U.S. In contrast, Japan hosts 56 of the 70 largest floating PV installations.
In “Floating PV: Assessing the Technical Potential of Photovoltaic Systems on Man-Made Water Bodies in the Continental U.S.,” the research team estimates that roughly 2.1 million hectares of land could be saved if solar panels were installed over bodies of water, rather than on the ground. Using PV can also reduce water evaporation and the growth of algae.
“Floating solar is a new industry enabled by the rapid drop in the price of solar PV modules,” said Adam Warren, director of NREL’s Integrated Applications Center.
“The cost of acquiring and developing land is becoming a larger part of the cost of a solar project. In some places, like islands, the price of land is quite high, and we are seeing a rapid adoption of floating solar.”
The NREL team also found that implementing floating PV alongside hydroelectric facilities resulted in increased energy output and cost savings due to existing transmission infrastructure.
The team’s findings were published in Environmental Science & Technology. NREL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program, an internal source of financing for research, provided funding for the analysis.