Floating PV offers the advantage of freeing up additional space for the energy transition and minimizing disputes over land use. Owners of artificial lakes can also profit from the dual use of their waters. Not only that, but floating PV systems are easy to install and their output is boosted by water cooling.
Floating solar power systems on reservoirs and quarry lakes are gaining popularity in Europe and offer vast potential. Last spring, Europe’s largest floating solar park with 27.4 megawatts (MW) of capacity commenced operation on a quarry lake in the Netherlands. Several additional installations in the double-digit megawatt (MW) range have recently been built there. Large floating solar plants have also been installed in France and the UK. BayWa r.e. alone has implemented floating PV installations with a total capacity of around 100 MW in Europe. Plans were recently announced to build floating PV installations with a total capacity of more than 800 MW on reservoirs and other artificial bodies of water in Greece in the coming years.
Floating PV is also trending in Germany, with the first phase of construction underway on a 1.5 MW solar plant on a quarry lake in Rhineland-Palatinate. In its first year of operation, a 750 kilowatt system on a quarry lake in Baden-Württemberg exceeded expectations both in terms of yield (plus 7 percent) and stability in the face of strong winds. Seventy-five percent of the power generated was used directly by the operators of the gravel pit, compared to expected on-site consumption of around 65 percent. The amended German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), which provides for innovation tenders in various fields, including floating PV, is expected to spur the development of additional installations.
While the electricity production costs for floating PV installations are still typically somewhat more expensive than solar parks on dry land, experts believe prices will fall sharply in the near future. Initial pilot applications are now also up and running at sea. The aim is to combine these installations with offshore wind power. Floating PV also presents interesting possibilities for reservoirs at hydroelectric power plants, where they could provide a guaranteed power supply even during dry periods.
Floating PV installations with a total capacity of around 2 gigawatts (GW) were in place worldwide at the end of 2019. Experts estimate a total worldwide capacity of 62 GW by 2030.
One opportunity to learn more about floating PV is at the upcoming Intersolar Europe Conference, from October 6–7 in Munich.
The trend paper "Floating Photovoltaics" provides an overview on the topic.