How does Floating Solar work?

Published on
October 7, 2022

Floating solar is a renewable energy source that is being adopted on a global scale. This article outlines how floating solar systems operate.

Solar technology is not new to Bermuda. In fact, there are companies that currently install solar panels throughout the island. These solar panels, known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, make electricity for the homes and buildings. However, not everywhere on land is equipped for solar panels. With the progress toward renewable energy, more advancements in solar technology are being made. One alternative that shows promise in the industry is floating solar.

Solar panels, also known as floating photovoltaic (FPV) panels, are arrays of FPVs that float on top of water reservoirs, dams, and lakes. The FPVs are attached to a buoyant platform to keep them above the surface.  A fairly new concept, the first floating solar installation was in Japan in 2017. FPVs has since been installed in the United Kingdom, Korea and China. The majority of FPV projects are installed in onshore water, but The Netherlands and China have installed offshore FPVs. Other countries, like Thailand, India, Malaysia, and have announced larger FPV projects.

The operating principle of floating solar energy is very similar to that of traditional solar, but a major difference is the way the panels are held together. FPVs use the same PV panels as traditional installations, but the way the panels are secured and mounted is different. Traditional panels are secured to a framed structure, either on the ground or a roof, while floating solar panels are secured to a framed structure on a floating platform.

Solar technology advancement is developing rapidly and FPV has the potential to supplement land-based and rooftop solar with deployment and application. What are is the advantages of FPV? Recent studies found floating solar produces more electricity compared with rooftop or ground-mounted solar installations. This is due to the evaporative cooling effect of the water. While traditional panels are robust and can operate under high temperatures, their performance tends to fall as temperatures rise. Water helps cool down the solar equipment and a lower operating temperature for the FPVs allows for more electricity generation.

Reduced water evaporation is an advantage for places that utilize reservoirs or irrigation ponds as drinking water. Improved water quality for freshwaters reduces algae blooms. The systems have an easier installation and deployment from not having to depend on a fixed structure as the foundation.

There are some challenges faced with FPV. Compared to traditional solar, FPV is more costly to install. Contingent on where the body of water is located, environmental factors like wind or water levels can also cause challenges with anchoring and mooring issues. There is also the higher risk of corrosion, thus the racking system need to have high corrosion resistance to have a long lifespan.

Weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes can pose a threat to floating solar systems. High winds or waves may cause the panels to move or rotate, thus the structural designs must be able to endure extreme conditions. The installation and mooring system of FPV is paramount as it fully stabilizes the buoyant structure of the system on the water’s surface.

Most floating solar installations are installed in reservoirs or lakes, but they can exist on the surfaces of oceans or seas if the conditions are right. Recently, an offshore array was tested in the Netherlands with wind and water pressures like being in the open sea and is said to withstand hurricane forces. Further research is required to measure the impact of weather conditions the potential environmental impacts and education to enable wider adoption.

Can FPV exist of Bermuda’s waters?  The RA is exploring the possibility of floating solar through a Request for Expression of Interest (RfEoI) for up to a 10MW floating solar development in Bermuda that will be published soon. The results from the RfEoI will assist the RA in determining whether this is a viable (financial and technical) option for Bermuda. Safe, sustainable, and reliable supply of electricity is key component of Bermuda energy plan and floating solar may be another way to assist with a cleaner energy future.