With the global push for renewable energy, solar power has seen a boom in recent years. While ground-mounted solar panels are the most common way to harness the power of the sun, there is another option that is becoming increasingly popular: floating solar. This power generation system uses large water bodies to set up a floating solar unit to capture sufficient solar energy without the need for land.
What Is Floating Solar and How Does Its Work?
Floating solar, also known as floating photovoltaics (FPV), is a type of solar panel that is mounted on a floating structure. Floating solar systems are typically used in reservoirs, lakes, and other large man-made bodies of water. The main advantage of FPV is that it takes advantage of the unused space on the water surface and does not take up land resources.
The solar panels are firmly fixed on buoyant structures to keep them afloat on water bodies to receive sufficient sunlight throughout the year. The solar electricity generated is transferred to a central inverter before reaching electrical equipment onshore via underwater cables. The power from the inverter is sent first to the transformer to be stepped down and then fed to the transmission system for conveyance to the end-user.
Deployment of FPVs in solar water bodies is a win-win situation. As the panels block excessive heat from seeping into the water bodies, they themselves get cooled, improving their energy productivity.
Components of Floating Solar System
PV modules: The actual solar panels harness solar energy and transmit it to be converted into usable power.
Floaters: These are a series of interconnecting plastic rafts where the solar panels sit.
Mooring system – Anchors: These provide support to the solar panels floating on the water surface, right from the water's floor. The commonly used types are vertical load, drag embedded, and suction anchors.
Mooring system – Mooring line: This is the line connecting the solar panels' floaters and the anchor below. The strength of the mooring line depends on the weight of solar panels that need to be supported.
Combine box: This is where the output of all the solar panels on the array is gathered so that it can be fed to the central inverter.
Central inverter: This is a huge component of the FPV, whose role is to convert DC to AC for transmission.
Transformer: The transformer steps down the power for easier transmission.
Cabling: These are the connections made to integrate the solar panels, combine box, central inverter, and transformer.
Transmission system: This is the inland connection line used to transport the power to where it's needed.
Floating walkways: The access point of the solar panels from the inland side. Crucial when the solar panels need to be serviced.
Features of Floating Solar
A floating solar panel plant consists of the solar module, anti-rust material, vertical and horizontal frames, buoyancy body, inspection footrest, and module mount assembly. The solar module needs to be highly humidity resistant, dustproof, lead-free, and well protected from the effects of water. The buoyancy is made from polyethylene that can hold 2.5 times the weight. The floating structure is made from magnesium alloy coating, which is highly resistant to corrosion.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Floating Solar
Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of installing floating solar.
Advantages of Floating Solar
No Valuable Land Space is Lost: In contrast to ground-mounted solar panels, floating panels do not take up valuable land space. Thus, the large solar panel systems eliminate the need for deforestation.
Environmental Benefits: They reduce water evaporation and algae blooms on the surface of water bodies. They generate clean, renewable energy and help reduce dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels.
Higher solar panel performance: The bodies of water that host floating solar arrays help cool down the solar equipment, which means the panels produce electricity at higher efficiencies in hot climates than they might otherwise.
Disadvantages of Floating Solar
Expensive to Install: They are costlier than traditional PV systems as they require specialised equipment and knowledge.
Limited Application: This technology does not just work for anyone. Many floating solar installations are large-scale, and they provide electricity to large communities, companies, or utility companies. If you want solar, choosing rooftop installation or ground-mounted solar is more practical.
Disruption to aquatic life: The installation prevents sunlight from penetrating into the surface of the water, thus limiting the wildlife within the water. The physical structure may also injure animals – therefore, it is recommended that the panels are installed on man made lakes and reservoirs that have limited wildlife in them.
Maintenance of a Floating Solar Panel
As water provides the cooling effect, little maintenance is needed for floating solar panels. Also, rainfall helps in the cleaning process. The following measures are taken for the cleaning and maintenance of solar panels.
Manual Cleaning: Professional workers and the right materials are chosen for the manual cleaning of floating solar panels. Special care is needed while choosing the materials. That's because certain cleaning chemicals can hinder the performance of floating solar panels.
Sprinklers: Both air and water can be used in self-cleaning. Sprinklers are suitable for arid regions. They simulate the cleaning effect of rainfall; thereby, cleaning the panels at a relatively low cost.
Forced Airflow: Forced airflow with an air-conditioner is also used for cleaning.
Robotic: Robotic maintenance techniques help clean and repair floating solar panels. It's also a cost-effective option that reduces wastage of water despite the high purchase cost.
The Cost of Building a Floating Solar Power Plant
The cost of building a floating solar power plant will vary depending on the size and location of the project. In general, larger projects will be more expensive to build than smaller ones. The cost of land will also play a role in the total cost of the project. Floating solar power plants are typically built in sunny locations with large bodies of water, such as reservoirs. The cost of building a floating solar power plant in an area with strong winds and waves will be higher than in a calm location.
In addition to the cost of construction, the cost of maintaining a floating solar power plant will also need to be considered. These costs can include repairs, replacement parts, and routine maintenance. When all these costs are taken into consideration, the cost of building a floating solar power plant can be significant. The good thing is, there're so many benefits (including cost-benefits) to enjoy throughout the lifespan of the floating solar plant.
Challenges of Setting up a Floating Solar Power Plant
Compared to traditional ground-mounted and rooftop solar, the development of floating solar plants presents different challenges due to hydrodynamic loads on the structure, risk of corrosion and additional components to be designed, installed and maintained, such as the floats, the anchors and the mooring lines. These challenges are highly dependent on the location, size, type of water body, type of structure and environmental conditions. Performing a site-specific design and assessment will help to reduce risks for new and operating floating solar projects.
Accordingly, setting up a floating solar plant requires careful planning and preparation. However, once operational, an FPV can provide a clean, efficient energy for the next 25 years.
Are Floating Solar Panels More Efficient Than Land Solar Power Plants?
There is a lot of debate over whether floating solar panels are more efficient than land solar power plants. Some people argue that the water cools the solar panels, making them more efficient. Others argue that the water makes the panels less efficient because it reflects sunlight away from the panels.
The truth is that both arguments have some merit. However, studies have shown that floating solar panels are generally about 10% more efficient than land solar power plants. This is because the water cools the panels, which makes them work better.
Floating solar is becoming an increasingly popular way to produce renewable energy, and for good reason. It's a great option for those who want to take advantage of solar power but don't have enough room on land for traditional solar panels. If you're interested in learning more about floating solar system or want to explore how it could work for you, contact us today. We would be happy to discuss this technology with you and answer any questions you may have.