Are floating renewable sites the future of the industry?

Published: 30 Dec 2017 By Matt Cook

Floating renewable energy projects are growing quickly in popularity. Fuelled by mounting costs related to purchasing land and the rising demand for additional renewable energy projects, many businesses are looking to the water for potential development plans.

In the last week, China announced its plans to build the world’s largest floating solar site. China is the largest investor in renewable energy worldwide and aims to use this site to reduce the country’s consumption of fossil fuels and tackle the challenge of improving its overall air quality levels. The new plant will dwarf the existing largest floating solar site in Ahui.
The project, costing over £110 million is being funded by China Three Gorges Corporation and is due to be completed within the eastern Anhui province in May. The developers believe that once complete the project will generate over 150 MW of power, enough energy to power over 50,000 homes. China Three Gorges Corporation believe the new solar site will save nearly 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission every year.


A floating solar panel consists of a collection of photovoltaic (PV) panels attached to a structure, such as a raft.  The structure floats in the water, generally on a lake or reservoir. Several countries have been embracing this technology, and the demand for floating solar is growing.  Floating solar panels sites are already operational in Japan, France, Indonesia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.  China is currently home to over 60% of floating PV panel sites worldwide.


China is one of several nations looking at how floating renewable sites can alleviate the pressure on valuable agricultural land. The PV panels can also provide an additional benefit by eliminating the evaporation of surface water, saving supplies for drinking and irrigation.


China has made significant steps in its efforts to make the transition from coal and other fossil fuel derived sources of energy. However, despite huge investment and notably large planned projects, nearly three-quarters of the nation's energy continues to be supplied from the coal industry. The development of the new floating solar farm is an encouraging sign that China is committed to developing its renewable sector and reducing its reliance on the coal industry.


Floating energy projects could alleviate challenges within the property development market by creating an added supply of energy to satisfy increasing energy demands in modern society and at the same time avoid developing on scarce land resources. With further technologies based offshore, the less pressure there will be on land use, housing demands, urban populations, and allocated greenbelt areas.


There is no denying floating solar technology has numerous economic and environmental benefits over traditional solar panels. ‘Floaters’ are an emerging market and are notably growing in popularity within areas with limited land space as a viable method of capturing solar power. Low activity areas, such as reservoirs, are being earmarked as potential sites for floating solar projects and energy experts believe the possibilities within this market are huge. Experts believe that floating projects will provide great benefits to government, businesses, and consumers.


With relatively small prices for purchasing and installing mean a return on initial investment for these projects is attractive to prospective parties. Solar PV industry has continued to focus on improving the supply chain and associated production costs. As a result, solar prices have continued to drop and are becoming more and more competitive.


Solar experts also suggest that floating sites can perform better than their traditional counterparts. This is due to evaporating water maintaining a cooler temperature for longer periods on the PV panels. Cooler temperatures provide a more suitable condition for generating higher levels of energy.
 
Floating projects are proven to have economic and environmental benefits, and with a surge in support for renewables, combined with pressure on land available for project development, it is likely we will see new floating sites emerging in the coming years.

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