The wide expanses of lakes and reservoirs are seeing some new usage beyond recreational boating. Turns out that the large, open spaces are also a perfect place to install solar panels.
It may seem unconventional, but more companies and individuals are pursuing the idea. In the spring of 2016, Kyocera, a Japanese company, set out to build a floating solar plant atop the Yamakura Dam reservoir. It is currently the largest and most ambitious project of its kind, but others in Australia and the United States are already looking into the concept. In fact, Ciel & Terre, a French solar energy company, has been working on large scale floating solar solutions since 2011, and is collaborating with Kyocera on this project.
When completed, the company estimates that almost 5,000 homes will be powered by the facility. The success of this project could open the door to others like it, especially in Japan, where tracts of land for solar panel installation are becoming hard to come by.
The appeal behind these systems? Well, for starters, it saves land and is much less expensive. While conspicuous from the air, floating solar panels, glibly dubbed “floatovoltaics,” are not as noticeable on the shores of a reservoir or lake. Plus, though land is aggressively sought after, water does not hold the same value, making it inexpensive to purchase as sites for new solar farms.
That said, venturing to the water presents further challenges to builders and energy companies. For one thing, every component needs to be waterproofed, a sizable challenge when each plant is comprised of thousands of panels, and each facility will have to resist wind, storms, and any other weather that might adversely affect bodies of water. This is a particular issue in Japan, where frequent hurricanes have the potential to jeopardize millions of dollars of work.
Plus, anybody looking to create such a facility will need to ensure that it does not affect the water quality of wherever it goes; after all, reservoirs used for drinking water are prime locations for these new solar plants.
However, Ciel & Terre has had time to perfect the technology and make it less expensive, and has focused on large-scale solutions that resist corrosion. The panels themselves are mounted on a scalable, completely biodegradable frame.
Beyond this, there are even more benefits to making use of water-based solar energy plants. They help shield reservoirs from the sun during droughts, reducing evaporation. In dry areas such as Los Angeles, this is a very real problem for some reservoirs, to the point that that mayor recently released thousands of “shade balls” into the Los Angeles reservoir to help block out sunlight and stabilize the city’s water crisis. Additionally, blocking UV rays, whether with balls or solar panels, prevents the growth of some harmful algae and keeps water supplies safe.
In fact, Holtville, a city in the parched region of southern California, is pursuing its own floating solar power facilities, and a winery (also in California) has gone so far as to pioneer the idea as far back as 2008.
Following the Fukushima Disaster, Japan has zealously sought out alternative forms of energy, hampered primarily by their lack of usable land. However, with the Yamakura Dam, the country is setting an example for other countries around the world looking to invest in sustainable energy. We’ve seen this solution help with water preservation in some U.S. cities, and now it seems that there’s new real estate to power nations worldwide.