January 28, 2020 - Major potential in Europe and elsewhere: Floating solar power systems on reservoirs and quarry lakes are still a niche technology, but they are gaining popularity and offer vast potential.
In October 2019, for example, Europe’s largest floating photovoltaic installation to date was launched in the south of France. It offers a capacity of 17 megawatts (MW) and covers 47 hectares on the surface of a lake formed in a disused quarry. More recently, construction started on a 27.4 MW solar farm supported by a floating substructure on an artificial lake in the Netherlands.
Floating PV installations with an estimated total capacity of 2 gigawatts (GW) were in place worldwide at the end of 2019. According to the World Bank, Europe alone has a potential capacity of 204 GW, if 10 percent of the surface area of artificial freshwater lakes such as disused lignite pits is used. Rethink Energy estimates a total capacity of 62 GW worldwide by 2030.
Dual use of water surfaces for PV
The advantage of floating PV is that it opens up additional space for the energy transition, which should help calm the sometimes heated debate over land use in EU member states. Owners of artificial lakes can also profit from the dual use of their waters. One interesting combination is with hydropower installations. Floating PV systems are also relatively easy to install, and their output is boosted by the added water cooling.
Combinations with offshore wind power
One major hurdle in the development of floating PV installations on inland bodies of water is the cost, which is currently as much as 25 percent higher than for free-standing installations on land. But experts believe prices will fall sharply in the near future. Initial pilot applications are now also up and running at sea, including one in the North Sea off the Dutch coast. The aim is to combine these installations with offshore wind power sites to achieve more stable and continuous power generation.
One opportunity to learn more about floating PV is at this year’s Intersolar Europe Conference. A range of sessions will explore different aspects of floating solar farms, including project experience and best practice examples in the field of operation and maintenance as well as standardization, financing and bankability, the technical design of floating systems and methods for anchoring them, and initial experiences with floating PV systems at sea.