Floating solar photovoltaics could generate 10 per cent of US electricity

Floating solar photovoltaics systems are a technology already in widespread use, especially in Japan. Installing them on more than 24,000 reservoirs in the United States could generate around 10 per cent of the nation’s annual electricity.

Installing floating solar photovoltaics (PV panels) on the more than 24,000 human-made reservoirs in the United States could generate about 10 per cent of the nation’s annual electricity production, according to new research from the DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The first installation of PV panels in America occurred 10 years ago on pontoons on an irrigation pond in California, but the idea has not received widespread national acceptance – despite being widely used overseas. Japan, for example, is home to 56 of the 70 largest floating PV installations in the world.

“In the United States, it’s been a niche application; where in other places, it’s really been a necessity,” commented Jordan Macknick, lead energy-water-land analyst for NREL, in a statement. “We’re expecting it to take off in the United States, especially in areas that are land-constrained and where there’s a major conflict between solar encroaching on farmland.”

The researchers estimate that about 2.1 million hectares of land could be saved if solar panels were installed on bodies of water instead of on the ground. Other benefits of floating PV panels include reduced water evaporation and algae growth.

The NREL team also found that operating floating PVs alongside hydroelectric facilities yields increased energy output and cost savings because of existing transmission infrastructure.

Photo credit: National Renewable Energy Lab/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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