Is the Future of Energy Floating Solar?
Solar farms require massive land in order for them to operate. But land continues to be at premium prices in Australia. With demand for electricity going up each year, it’s time to look at other solutions. That’s where floating solar farms come in. Because they “float,” they can take up available water space, such as on dams and lakes.
Solar farms were introduced in the country because of the lack of roof space. Roofs may not have the needed structural integrity and pitch, too. Also known as ground-mount arrays, these solar farms are installed on vacant land next to electrical infrastructure. But with expensive land prices, no one was willing to purchase them to build solar farms. Property owners with ponds, lakes, and dams have decided to use their free space for floating solar islands.
What are These Floating Solar Systems?
Some people call floating solar “floatovoltaics.” They are designed to be on top of an irrigation dam, which means they stand on the surface of the water. These solar systems generate renewable energy, just like residential PV systems and traditional solar farms. The electricity they produce helps offset electricity consumption, which is distributed to residents or communities in the nearby area.
Floating solar farms were introduced many years back. They had gained traction mostly in 2018 when many countries opted to take advantage of this approach. These farms were built in countries that have high population density, especially those with limited available land.
This eco-friendly electric power generation method combines marine and renewable energy technologies. Instead of installing solar modules on residential or commercial roofs, they are placed on the surface of the water. Electricity will then be sent to a transmission tower through the cables installed underwater.
Benefits of Floating Solar Farms
Floating solar PV has plenty of benefits for Australians and the country, as well:
More Efficient Land Use
Currently, we face a dilemma with wasted land space, which is one thing that the country aims to minimise in the future. But Australia has several available areas where floating solar can be installed.
Instead of taking up valuable land space, PV energy systems can be set up on the surface of the water. These systems do not require construction that takes place on land. Forests are left alone because there is no need to convert them to an area where solar PV can be accommodated. Farmlands are untouched, as well. As a result, land can be used for other meaningful purposes.
High Energy Yield
Floating solar provides increased energy generation. That’s because of its location, which is on the water surface. Water helps keep the system cool, which reduces inefficiencies due to high heat. The constant rise in temperature of the modules can cause their quick deterioration. While these solar modules were designed to be used under the sun, they are still vulnerable to extreme temperature damage. Being on the water increases the cooling capacity of the solar panels by up to 12.5%.
Floating solar can actually help lower water evaporation, which is a natural occurrence in the reservoir. Floatovoltaics block sunlight, which is effective in reducing water molecules that escape into the air.
Fish farms can continue thriving while floating solar is above water. It can even control algae growth. Floating solar also contributes to reducing the effects of climate change by cooling down lakes. It dramatically lowers the amount of sunlight reaching the body of water’s surface by 10 per cent. If several of these floating solar farms are installed across the country, we can enjoy an exceptional cooling effect. At the same time, lakes will experience better oxygenation, which is vital to aquatic plants and animals.
The Future of Floating Solar Farms in Australia
Water, compared to land, is a lazy asset, especially in Australia. It’s just like a boat – if it’s not used, it most probably costs money. And in recent times, solar has moved quickly. That includes floating solar, which is now a growing industry on its own. Despite the growth, it appears that floating solar farms are in an indeterminate state between commercialisation and start-up.
There is so much potential for floating solar in the country. But many are still reluctant to join in, especially with an adoption rate of 1-4MW. In other countries, it’s a lot higher, ranging from 50MW to 200MW.
Nevertheless, Australia is beginning to implement and install floating solar systems. Since 2015, a farm in South Australia has already been in operation. SA is the first ever to apply floating solar in the country at a wastewater treatment plant located in Jamestown, which is 200km north of Adelaide. The $17.5 million island comprises a system with 112 panels. To prevent overheating, the system uses the body of water and special technologies to increase output further.
Plus, it is also where the largest solar farm in the nation is found, which is the Bungala in Port Augusta. It’s no wonder that SA leads the country’s adoption of renewable power. Almost half of its electricity comes from solar panels and other sources.
The case for floating solar farms in the country is significant. There are so many bodies of water that are currently left alone when they should be used to help reduce electricity production from fossil fuels. Floating solar does not require a large capital investment.
Additionally, floating solar benefits the ecosystem. And with a cooler environment, solar panels are more efficient. Water temperatures are generally around 25 degrees Celsius, even in the summer. That means the output losses are minimal, allowing the panels to operate how they are intended.