The world has already accepted renewable energy (especially solar) as future mainstream energy instead of fossil fuels. And now global energy moves show an interesting pattern that highlights global intent of utilizing the solar energy through engineering innovation.
To make a positive change in the energy scenario, the world really needs more focus on rapid solarisation. And floating solar is a successful attempt to achieve that purpose.
The Inception and Potential
The first floating solar plant was installed in Korea on Geumgwang reservoir in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province in 2014. The plant had a 465 kW energy generation capacity and consisted of 1,600 solar modules. The inception brought insight on the benefits of such installations. And in 2015, Japan announced the installation of then largest floating solar plant, comprising of 9,000 solar panels. However, within 2016, a much bigger installation of floating solar plant (consisting of 23,000 panels) was inaugurated on Thames, capable of producing 6.3 MW energy.
And finally, in May 2017, China brought forward what would become the perfect example of largest floating solar installation success, generating 40 MW energy capable of powering 15,000 homes. With exemplary and inspiring growth within markets like –China, Japan, Singapore, UK (London) and India, the market value of the floating solar industry drastically increased. It is estimated to reach $2.7 billion in 2025 from $3.89 million in 2014. Floating solar projects are mostly located in Asia with Europe, North and Latin America are expected to show increase in floating solar projects in the future.
Growth in India
The first floating solar plant installed in India was around the same year (2014), world witnessed the first application of innovative engineering to harness solar energy on water. It was a 10 kW Floating Solar Power Plant in West Bengal, India. The iconic project focused on introducing a completely flexible and efficient system. The floating platform or pontoon was designed with the help of innovative floating mechanism functions to maintain stability and functionality over the water. The system was anchored to the bottom of the lake for added stability, and submersible cables were used to connect the plant with the grid. The plant was successful to generate 1,765.3 kWh green energy from the sun and saved 2,942.167 kgs CO2 annually. Drawing inspiration from the project, India aggressively started installing floating solar plants over water bodies. In March 2017, India installed its then largest 100 kW floating solar plant at Kayamkulam, Kerala. And within just 7 months (October) broke its own record installing 500 kW capacity plant in the same state (Kerala). It is estimated that if the country succeeds in utilizing even 1% of its 11583 square miles of contained water bodies through floating solar, it could generate more power than 15 medium to large coal fired power stations.
Understanding the implications of such endeavours, India has plans to install more than 20 MW of floating solar plants in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. New projects are coming up and the future seems bright for floating solar sector in India.
Why Floating Solar?
Increasing demand for power, limited land for ground mounted installations, and lack of power infrastructure are driving the demand for floating solar. Besides saving land, floating solar does have other benefits as well.
Maximizes Energy Generation– Ground mounted solar panels tends to show reduction in energy generation through high exposure during summer. However, positioning of floating solar panels over water, creates a ‘cooling effect’, keeping the temperature in check and maximizing energy generation. The substitute for ground-mounted panels require high OPEX, while for floating solar, it happens naturally.
Reduces Water Evaporation– In tropical countries, water evaporation is an issue. And with rain rate reducing globally (global warming), and water contamination related issues increasing, saving water from evaporation is now a necessity. Installation solar panels over the water body, reduces water evaporation considerably.
Reduces Algae Growth– Algae growth within lakes and reservoir are a serious issue that increases filtration cost and introduces issue of water contamination. However, with solar panels placed on top of the lakes/reservoir, algae growth can be contained, reducing maintenance cost.
Focus On Technology and Policy for Growth
Although the scenario looks rosy for floating solar, there are still challenges floating solar development faces globally.
High capital cost of transportation, installation, and technology (EPC) accessibility issues are currently limiting floating power plant market growth. Floating solar presents multiple benefits that further extends the solar energy generation paybacks, adding environment and water saving features. Therefore, globally, these initiatives should be incentivized by the Government. Policy-makers must turn their attention to driving down BoS costs. Policy frameworks favouring minimise capital costs of implementation will help in reducing the capital cost and allow faster adaptation of floating solar. New policies encouraging innovation through subsidization of practical applications will also improve the structural design and integrity of the installations.
Governments should also Identify the capable EPC entities for pontoon structure development and overseeing technical nitty gritty and publicize the data for faster project adaptation. Rapid environmental policy development (e.g- environment policy of Sao Paolo state, Brazil for floating solar) and enforcement is also needed for faster growth in this sector.
We are at the verge of changing our economy, society, and life through evolving energy choices. Therefore, it is the right time to make bold decisions that promise to facilitate growth at a much faster pace. Floating solar plants should be treated as such to break the limits of energy generation calculations.
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