How big is the niche? Where are these floating plants located and what is their size? Solarplaza delved into these questions and came up with a Top 70 Floating PV Plants, as well as several interesting facts you probably want to know.
Including more details on EPCs, products used and useful links.
Over half of the plants in this overview have a capacity smaller than 1 MWp. This, however, doesn’t mean that floating solar plants can’t be big. 21 out of the 70 plants are between 1 and 2 MWp, while the remaining 12 are 2 MWp or bigger. The largest plant has a capacity of 20 MWp and is located in the Anhui province in China. The second largest plant is the 7.5 MWp Kawashima Taiyou to shizen no megumi Solarpark, located in the Saitama Prefecture in Japan.
Figure 1. Isawa-ike (Japan) floating PV plant, 632 kWp (Ciel & Terre)
Many countries have already started experimenting with floating plant. Two countries, however, are the largest pioneers by a wide margin. The UK has built 6 floating plants, with capacities ranging from 6.3 MWp to 50 kWp. The current leader in the floating solar market by far is Japan, which is home to 45 of the plants in this Top 70. 24 of those projects are located in the Hyogo Prefecture alone. The apparent dominance of Japan in this overview is easy to explain: generous feed in tariffs and a lack of suitable land have pushed developers to find creative solutions on the water.
Only three floating solar plants had ever been built before 2014. Over the past two years this number has grown to over 70 plants spread across the world, which has led many people to believe that this is the potential start of a new PV boom. Japan, which has paved the way of the floating revolution, continues to see impressive growth in the number of its operating floating plants.
The first of these plants was installed just 3 years ago, in 2013, by West Holdings. As of this writing there are 45 floating plants in Japan, more than half of the 70 in this overview. So far in 2016 at least 29 floating solar plants have been commissioned. Recently Ciel et Terre, a company that specializes in floating PV plants, estimated that another 70 MWp of capacity will be added in Japan alone during 2017. This makes it reasonable to believe that 2017 could very well become the ‘year of floatovoltaics’.
Figure 2. Gono-ike (Japan) floating PV plant, 1.2 MWp (Ciel & Terre)
Camille Marliere from Ciel & Terre, one of the world’s leading developers of large scale floating power plants, explains the intriguing nature of floating PV, a concept that until recently was virtually nonexistent. Floating PV installations are usually positioned on inland bodies of water that are either unused or compounded. Prime candidates for floating PV locations are water ponds, lakes, and reservoirs owned by water utilities or agriculture companies. Inland floating PV is vastly different from its offshore counterpart, which tends to be installed at sea and involves much more serious constraints, like the saltwater environment, strong wave action, and complicated anchoring systems.
Floating solar systems are superior to ground and roof-mounted systems because they:
Figure 3. Kato-shi (Japan) floating PV plant, 2.9 MWp (Ciel & Terre)
“The installation of PV systems is a surprisingly simple task, both on land and on water,” continues Camille Marliere from Ciel & Terre. Since foundational work is not required and the deployment itself is quite straightforward, floating PV systems face fewer barriers than ground-mounted PV. An often misrepresented concern is operation and maintenance, which in reality can be performed safely and easily as long as technicians are adequately equipped and the plant’s design features waterproof junction boxes and cables.
In addition, often times there are nearby grid-connection infrastructures, which greatly alleviates the financial cost of setting up and connecting the PV plant, and there is no need to transport water for cleaning, since it’s available on the spot.
The only major structural requirements for floating PV systems are the ability to withstand strong winds, water level variations and other meteorological challenges.
“Floating PV systems can be cheaper than traditional installations,” concludes Marliere, “and this is the case of Japan, to name one market, where land cost is very high and justifies the switch to floating plants”.
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