Turning seemingly far flung ideas into new energy resources with great mainstream potential has been a hallmark of the renewable revolution. In the spirit of that tradition, as offshore wind gains its own foothold in the power industry, another form of offshore renewable generation is also getting its share of attention.
According to recent data, floating solar panels have the potential to power up a significant proportion of the nation’s energy output. Findings from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) were published in a paper titled, “Floating PV: Assessing the Technical Potential of Photovoltaic Systems on Man-Made Water Bodies in the Continental U.S.," which appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology last December.
According to NREL researchers, so-called "flotovoltaics" are a rapidly emerging generation technology.
Panels that are situated directly on the water, as opposed to erected on the ground or on building rooftops, pose many benefits. By providing artificial shade, they can reduce evaporation and algae growth. They also reduce the operating temperature of solar panels, making them more efficient and cost-effective.
In the paper, the scientists project that, if flotovoltaics were installed on the more than 24,000 man-made U.S. reservoirs, which represents about 27 percent of the identified suitable water bodies, the panels could generate up to 10 percent of the nation’s electricity output.
Recognizing the opportunities presented by the rapidly decreasing price of solar in general, the scientists expect the technology to take off in the United States.
The study’s authors note that the technology could prove particularly useful in areas where suitable land supply for traditional solar cells is restricted. They expect growth to occur “especially in areas that are land-constrained and where there’s a major conflict between solar encroaching on farmland.” The scientists also project that about 2.1 million hectares of land could be saved if solar panels were installed on bodies of water instead of on the ground.