Floating solar panels are a relatively new technology. The first patent dates back to 2008. So, it is normal that people have many confusions and questions regarding this technology. The following discussion aims to answer all of them.
What you mainly need to understand about floating solar panels is that they are not much different from land panels. Because floating panels use the same means for converting sunlight into electricity, the difference lies mainly in the installations and materials that you will use.
If you are wondering whether you can replace your land-based solar panels with floating ones, read on to find out whether that is possible and what your options could be.
What Is A Floating Solar Panel?
A floating solar panel is essentially a solar panel that you install in water instead of land. The floating solar modules receive a lot of unblocked sunlight from their sunny water hosts. As a result, they generate electricity. After that, the energy is sent to the transmission tower through underwater cables.
Spots and Installations
Floating solar panels are also known as floating photovoltaics or floatovoltaics. The ideal spots for installation are man-made water bodies like reservoirs or dams. However, lakes are also a suitable natural place to put a floating solar panel.
Besides lakes and reservoirs, you can also install floating solar panels in seas and oceans. But that’s only viable when the condition of these water bodies is right. Plus, if you install a solar panel in seawater, you have to make sure that it can withstand saltwater and waves.
Two kinds of installation are common with floating solar panels. These are pontoons and rafts. When you are keeping it in a reservoir or lake, you can mount the solar module on a pontoon.
For deeper water, you might want to mount the module on a raft. These rafts can be fully plastic. Or, a combination of plastic and galvanized steel.
International Use of Floating Solar
Floating solar panels are quite new to the world. Registration of the first patent dates back to 2008. After that, many countries looked into the technology. Among the first countries to participate in installing floating solar panels are Italy, France, America, England, China, and Japan. Many other countries are becoming interested too.
The potential of floating solar energy is endless. Every day, more and more countries and corporations are conforming to this form of energy.
Currently, around thirty-five countries are reaping the benefits of floating solar energy. The combined energy generated from all these panels is approximately 2.6 gigawatts.
Theoretically, if you could put floating solar panels on just one percent of the total artificial water bodies in the world, you would be able to generate around four hundred gigawatts. That’s like the amount of electricity you need to power forty-four billion LED lights.
How Do Floating Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. The name for this is “photovoltaic technology.” and the basic unit responsible for this action is the photovoltaic cell. All solar modules contain a large number of photovoltaic or PV cells.
A PV cell is very small and as thin as four human hairs. It consists of various semiconductor materials. When the sun shines on these cells, the semiconductors absorb the energy. As a result, it creates electric charges. An electric field inside the cell moves this charge. This causes a flow of electricity.
The Different Parts Of A Floating Solar Panel
In a floating solar panel, a strong and sturdy structure holds the collection of photovoltaic cells or the solar module in place. Professionals refer to this structure as the “pontoon.”
This structure must have two primary qualities. Firstly, it should have excellent buoyancy. Secondly, it should be able to support a significant amount of weight.
The pontoon is secured in the water by a mooring system. Therefore, the floating solar panel doesn’t sway uncontrollably on the surface. This is the system that prevents the panel from washing away.
By using a mooring anchor, you can eliminate the need to fix the floating panel to a point on the shore. You just have to find a reference point at the bottom of the reservoir and tie the anchor to it.
Underwater cables maintain a connection between the solar panels and the power grid. These cables carry the electricity generated by the panel to the grid. And from there, distribution to the desired locality occurs. Needless to say, the cables are especially impact-resistant to prevent leakage or any other damage.
Types Of Material Used In A Floating Solar Panel
All the parts of a floating solar panel need to be able to withstand rust, dust, humidity, and other effects of the environment. Also, to not contaminate the water, none of the components should have lead in them.
The material in the buoyant parts is usually high-grade polyethylene that can hold more than twice its weight. And there is also a magnesium alloy coating on the floating structure. This coating saves the floating part from the corrosive effects of saltwater.
The Advantages Of Floating Solar
The greatest benefit of using any kind of solar energy is the protective effect it has on the climate. When you convert sunlight into electricity, the need for burning fossil fuels reduces. This helps to cut down on carbon emissions. As a result, there is less damage to the ozone layer, and the global temperature is dropping.
Solar panels, on the other hand, take up valuable ground that could otherwise be used for agriculture or construction.
Save Lands And Forests
This is where floating solar panels become greatly helpful. Because you would be installing these panels on unused spaces around water bodies. These areas, such as a reservoir, dam, or pond, may be underutilized, and installing a solar panel will allow you to get the best use of them.
Moreover, floating solar panels will have a direct effect on decreasing deforestation. Because solar plant owners have to clear areas of forest to install their land-based solar panels. So, if the trend of floating panels takes off, many forests will remain untouched.
Greater Energy Generation
Besides saving space, floating solar panels can provide more electricity than their land counterparts. The reason behind this has to do with temperatures.
On extremely sunny days, the land-bound solar panels can become too hot. And when the temperatures in these panels rise too much, it reduces the generation of electricity. As a result, there is a decrease in the overall production of energy. This happens because solar panels on land don’t have a sufficient means of cooling off.
On the other hand, floating solar panels are already on water bodies. Therefore, the water host absorbs most of the extra heat, and the temperature in the panels always maintains itself at the desired level.
Maintain Water Health
We all know how much solar energy helps with the climate. And floating solar panels can add some contributions of their own to that.
Firstly, floating solar panels help to cut down on the evaporation of water. Because these floating bodies shade the water and thus protect it from the harsh effects of sunlight, this can be very helpful in areas that are prone to droughts and water shortages.
Secondly, these panels can keep the host water healthy and free from pathogens. Because the shade provided by the panels helps prevent the growth of harmful algae. Therefore, the water from the host reservoir will be safer for human and animal consumption.
The Challenges Of Using Floating Solar Panels
There is no doubt that floating solar panels are one of the best solutions for energy generation and climate protection. However, there are still some challenges that have to be dealt with before we can enjoy the full benefits of this system.
Currently, the biggest challenge with floating solar panels is the cost. Installing these panels costs more than traditional land-oriented solar panels.
The main reason behind this high cost is that the technology is still relatively new. Therefore, installation requires more specialized equipment and expert professional help. Both of these cost more money than normal panels. But as the use of this technology becomes widespread, you can expect the expenses to drop.
Secondly, floating solar panels are not yet available for use at an individual level. If you want to use solar energy to power your home, the best option is to install traditional panels on your roof.
That’s because when you use solar energy for your home, you don’t need to install more than 20 panels. However, in the case of floating panels, you have to install hundreds or thousands of panels in a large body of water.
At present, floating solar technology is mainly suitable for large-scale applications. In other words, local communities, businesses, factory chains, and municipalities can make the best use of this technology.
Floating solar panels are the solution to the energy and climate problems of the future. As a result, everyone needs to stay up to date on this technology and figure out how to incorporate it into their lives.
Because, as mentioned above, using floating solar panels requires collective initiative. So, the more people understand its benefits, the more widespread the technology becomes.