Floating solar farms are large solar arrays which float on water bodies, usually man-made reservoirs or rivers. This technology is traditional solar photovoltaic panels on water bodies which are supported by buoyant structures. They are located in medium-sized water bodies, such as rivers and hydropower reservoirs because they cannot withstand the water pressures in oceans. They are a new innovation which was introduced due to land scarcity for solar farms which limited energy production. Later in this report, the potential of this development is discussed which outlines how it could create much cleaner energy than current sources. Floating solar farms are already being utilized by some countries, such as China and Japan, due to their benefits. The technology requires very little land, it reduces water evaporation and it improves solar panel efficiency. These advantages can have major changes in energy production and environmental issues.
The original innovators developed floating solar farms due to the issues faced by traditional solar farms. Conventional solar farms were occupying large amounts of land which could have been used for some other purposes and people desired more energy output from solar power stations. Solar farms needed a lot of space to generate electricity which had an impact on the environment, agriculture and animals. The solar farms were causing some land degradation due to the methods by which the technology was being installed. The solar facilities used the land which could’ve been used for farming that would’ve provided food security for people and a better standard of living. In some cases, they were also utilizing land which was animals’ habitats, and this forced them to move to other places which eventually led to a drop in some animal species. In addition, solar farms weren’t generating as much energy as people wanted because the panels were getting overheated and this decreased their efficiency. The first floating solar farm models were introduced in 2007 in Aichi, Japan, to test the technology and find out the difference they made to the environment. During the process of trialling different models, it was also discovered that the technology improved water quality. This is because floating solar farms significantly reduce algae growth in water which makes the water more useful for different activities. After promising results from several small-scale projects, the first commercial floating solar system was built in California to clear land which was required for agriculture processes. There were various reasons why floating solar farms were developed and the trials proved that they had the potential to make an impact.
Floating solar panels are structures that consist of a large number of solar panels fixed on pontoon-type floating structures which float on the surface of water bodies. The pontoon-type floating structures are combined with metal trusses which are specifically designed for the solar panels. This allows the solar panels to be fixed to them at a tilted angle and the metal trusses also provide buoyancy to the structure. The design of the floating platform makes sure that small tides in water bodies don’t have an impact on the facilities, but they cannot withstand the different conditions in oceans. There is also an anchoring and mooring system which holds the floating platform in place and prevents it from going to unwanted locations. The floating platforms are normally anchored at the bottom of the water bodies, but they can be anchored at other locations depending on some factors. The mooring lines are an important part of the system as they make sure that variations or wild water conditions don’t have an impact on the solar array. The solar panels convert the solar energy into direct current using the solar cells inside the panels and send it to the combiner box which stores all the direct current from the solar panels. The combiner box sends the direct current to the central inverter which converts the single current direction of direct current electricity to multiple directions of alternating current voltage. The electricity then flows through the transformer where it increases the voltage to reduce power loss when electricity is transmitted to far distances. From the transformer, the electricity flows to a transmission line tower where the electrical energy is transmitted to areas which require electricity. The water bodies also help the solar panels as they cool them and keep them free of dust which makes them more efficient.
Floating solar farms have had a major impact on society due to the advantages they have over land-based systems. They require very little land which produces land for agriculture, industry or residency which are essential for growth in society. Agriculture provides food for the general public and employment for many people in rural areas. Developing countries require industrialization for economic growth which helps in employment opportunities and the progress of education and agriculture. Countries with high population density don’t have enough space for everyone’s residency, but floating solar farms will clear land which will provide housing land for the public. Floating solar arrays act as a barrier to reduce water evaporation as the solar panel shading covers the water and causes a drop in water temperature. With the water not being exposed to direct sunlight, the process of evaporation will slow down which means the water can be used for drinking or other practices. The solar panels also reflect some of the direct sunlight and some of the water vapour is trapped under the floating structure. Floating solar farms improve solar efficiency compared to land-based facilities, through cooling. The surrounding water cools the solar panels, and this keeps the solar panel temperature constant which is required for maximum energy production. The cooling process is a form of passive cooling where the solar panels are cooled through a combination of water evaporation and some amount of water-absorbing the sun’s heat. From current projects, it has been found that floating solar panels increase solar efficiency by 10% and figure 2 shows a graph from a project done in India which compared floating solar farms to conventional solar farms over a year.
Floating solar farms have the potential to change the energy industry and have a major impact on other industries in society. They were developed to solve issues which were surrounding solar farms and the initial models proved they were a solution for those issues. The solar array consists of solar panels fixed to floating platforms which lay on water bodies and the rest of the system is the same as a conventional solar farm. This technology also provides many advantages such as more land for other purposes and increased solar efficiency. The development of floating solar farms can create a cleaner source of energy.
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