Water And Energy Conservation Through Floatovoltaics
Floating Solar Panel technology, or floatovoltaics as it is popularly called, utilizes solar panels floating on water instead of being fixed on land. Solar panels are mounted on floating platforms and are modular in nature. These can be a one large structure or modules floating independently while maintaining a geometrical configuration. The efficiency of these floating structures are estimated to be 8%-10% higher than land based solar plants because the surrounding water has a cooling effect. Increased thermal transfer limits resistance on the circuit and allows the electrical current to move faster. It is also supportive of the overall water ecology and reduces evaporation of water and checks the growth of algae and other unwanted microorganisms. Floatovoltaics can also utilize waste water bodies for installation of solar panels which frees up expensive real estate.
Energy and water have a close nexus. While energy is needed to distribute and treat water, water is needed to generate energy especially while using hydropower or thermal plants. Such plants account for a majority of the electricity being generated. Land, water and energy are scarce resources and their availability and sustainability depends on how well we utilize them.
Applications And Benefits in Water & Energy Conservation
Floatovoltaics is a good readymade solution for water and energy conservation. The installation of floating solar panels can achieve this result by not only saving water through shading but also generates power. It is being estimated that 1 MW floating solar plant in India could not only save nearly 35 million litres of water and reduce about 1,700 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, but also produce 18 lakh kWh of electrical energy per year.
Floating solar panel technology is being promoted due to its advantages over conventional land based solar farms. The panels atop the water bodies help conserve water by reducing evaporation and the water helps to keep the panels cool, increasing their efficiency and improving energy output.
Indian water bodies lose between 0.75-3 meters of water due to evaporation every year. Solar panels covering just 1 square metre on water bodies could save more than 1,000 litres of water annually. In a dry climate like South Australia that would be equal to nearly 2.5 metres of water savings each year. Installing floating solar panels is also a better longer term structural solution to fight the challenge posed by droughts.
Floatovoltaics is being increasingly used as power plants, in dams, reservoirs for treating water and for aquaculture farming. Reservoirs can be best used for solar energy deployment because their surfaces are relatively placid and they are located in places where demand for power is high. Floatovoltaics also integrate well with agricultural systems and on-farm reservoirs/ ponds are used as water storage for irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture.
There is a requirement of energy around the world and we have mostly used fossil fuel in order to meet those needs. Installing solar panels on floating structures could greatly reduce our dependence on expensive and polluting fossil fuel and thus lead to climate change mitigation. Moreover, floating solar power plants can prove to be very helpful in places not connected to the grid.
Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley California was the first place to install a floating PV system and now it has become completely energy independent. It produces more energy than it actually uses. The 477 kW plant is composed of about 1,000 floating solar panels atop the winery’s irrigation pond. Installing this floating solar panel system also resulted in saving 1.5 acres of productive vineyard land, equivalent to $150,000 worth of bottled wine annually.
With increasing awareness about the adverse effect of fossil fuel generated emissions and severe climate shifts, there has a growing interest in renewable energy solutions. However, large scale solar installations use large land areas which could have been put to better use for other productive purposes like farming or construction. Hence countries are now looking at installing solar panels over salt water, wastewater and reservoirs. According to a market report published by Credence Research, the floating solar panel market is estimated to become $ 1.6 billion market by 2022, growing at 114% CAGR from 2016 to 2022. The earth surface is covered with ample amount of water and with the looming global warming threat; floating solar technology comes as a ready solution. Though the cost is a bit higher, we can’t ignore their advantages in the form of efficiency gains and ecological convenience.