Floatovoltaics are paving the wave towards a sunnier future and creating new growth opportunities for solar, particularly in countries with limited land availability. This cutting-edge technology, merely considered a niche not too long ago, is emerging as a viable growing market. In a report published by the World Bank in November 2018, the current global capacity for floating solar was calculated at 1.1 GW. Moreover, the report estimated that the market could potentially harbor up to 400 GW worth of floatovoltaic capacity. Thus far, the most paramount floating solar projects have been built in Asia. Nonetheless, other regions, including Europe, have started to become increasingly interested in utilizing floatovoltaics, due to their positive economic, environmental and social benefits. This article provides an overview of the key European floating solar PV plants and aims to shed light on the floating side of PV in terms of market potential and updates, its benefits, as well as some key applications and design considerations.
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|Rank||Size (kw)||Project||Country||Operating from||Floating system||Panels|
|1||6,338.00||Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir||F.O.||F.O.||F.O.||F.O.|
|2||2,991.00||Godley Reservoir Floating Solar PV||F.O.||F.O.||F.O.||F.O.|
*F.O. = Full Overview
Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir (image: Lightsource BP)
The top 30 European solar plants cumulatively hold 16.1 MW in capacity. Furthermore, the biggest and smallest plant on the list, 6,338 and 26,00 kW respectively, significantly differ in terms of capacity. More than 65% of the capacity is located in the UK, which is the home also to the highest number of projects. Hosting 7 projects, the Netherlands is the second country with the highest floating PV capacity on the list. The PV system floating on the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir, located in the UK, marks Europe’s largest floating solar plant with a capacity of 6.3 MW and more than 23,000 photovoltaic panels. This plant, which is the size of eight football pitches, took five years to realize and was developed by Lightsource Renewable Energy Holdings. Majority of the top 30 projects have become operational in the last two years and also grown in terms of size.
Alto Rabagao (image: EDP Renovaveis)
One of the key economic benefits of floating solar is the conversion of underutilized bodies of water into energy and money making hubs. Most European countries do not have sufficient readily available land to construct giant solar farms on. Additionally, the cost of building such plants is substantially higher, especially in countries like the Netherlands, where land comes at a premium. Floating solar also tends to reduce grid-connection costs, due to good access to existing electrical infrastructure. It even boosts solar power generation as a result of water’s inherent cooling impact on the system. In terms of social benefits, placing floats on water allows for valuable land to be used for agriculture and other purposes. Another advantage is that it allows for contaminated bodies of water to be used for generating clean and sustainable energy. Regarding the environmental benefits, floating solar minimizes water evaporation and preserves the existing ecosystem. The installation of floats can reduce algae growth, the presence of which is vital to maintaining water quality. Nevertheless, too many algae can also have the exact opposite effect. One other environmental benefit is limited erosion of reservoir embankments by virtue of decreasing wave action. Lastly, floating solar serves as a perfect pairing to existing hydropower infrastructures, addressing the intermittent nature of the sun or helping when water availability is running low.
Alto Rabagao (image: EDP Renovaveis)
Now you may wonder where and how these floating plants can actually be installed. Some of the floating PV applications include: industrial water ponds, mine lakes, irrigation/ desalination reservoirs, dams, canals, retentions ponds, etc. In ground-mounted solar systems, diggers are required to drive the poles into the floor, for which some use concrete solutions. However, none of that is needed with floatovoltaics. The arrays clip together and are simply pushed out onto the water. One aspect not to compromise upon is the anchoring system, which helps to keep the pontoon in a static position. Either centralized or string inverters can be used and placed on land or the floating platform, depending on the body of water’s geometry as well as system design. With regards to DC & AC cables, they should have impeccable weatherproofing characteristics and can either be regular cables, lifted by buoys, or submerged ones in a waterproof conduit of sorts.
Polybell (image: Polybell Organic)
Saltwater solar is on the horizon for the Dutch future of PV. In April 2018, the Netherlands announced that it is considering building solar plants on the surface of the ocean. According to Reuters, an offshore seaweed farm will be replaced by a floating solar farm in the coming three years, bolstering the adoption of solar in the land of progressive water management. The project will commence with a trial run and, if successful, will be expanded into its full capacity, to be finished by 2021. Another European country with big plans for offshore solar is Belgium, as it revealed, at the beginning of 2018, its plan to turn the North Sea into solar islands. The Flemish government made its very first investment into floating solar in October 2018, to support the construction of a plant that will rely on a combination of innovations, including solar trackers, bifacial modules and an active cooling system.
Polybell (image: Ciel & Terre)
Regarding future projects, two major upcoming floating solar projects for the Netherlands were announced through a tender in September 2018 by a Dutch water utility; NV PWN Waterleidingbedrijf Noord-Holland. These projects, located in Andijk and Hoofddorp, have a capacity of 4.4 MW and 2.8 MW respectively. PWN has also expressed interest in expanding the size of these systems to a total capacity of 16.7 MW. Akuo Energy, the French IPP, has planned to build a 17-megawatt floating solar plant, O’MEGA 1, in southern France. Upon completion, this project will be the largest floating solar plant in Europe. Overall, European floating solar is catching a wave of growth in terms of capacity, and this marks only the beginning of what seems to be a bright trajectory.