Floating solar refers to the positioning of arrays of solar panels on flotation structures, covering a body of water.
The body of water is typically an artificial basin, dam, or lake. Any land locked body of water can be home to a floating solar installation within reason.
Floating solar is also referred to as FPV (floating photovoltaic), and more recently, floatovoltaics or floatovoltaic systems.
What are the features of floating solar?
There are several unique features which floating solar offers in the renewable energy space that is not available in other solar based technologies:
No land occupancy
The main advantage of floating solar plants is that they do not take up any land, except the limited surfaces necessary for electric cabinet and grid connections. The price of floating solar is comparable with land based plants, but they provide a good way to avoid land consumption.
Water saving and water quality
The partial or total coverage of bodies of water can reduce the evaporation. This result depends on climate conditions and on the percentage of the covered surface. In arid climates, such as Australia, this is an important advantage since about 80% of the evaporation of the covered surface is saved and this means more than 20,000 m3/year/ha. This is a very useful feature if the water is used for hydroelectric or irrigation purposes. Large volumes of water used in cleaning of ground mounted systems is also saved, given the water that is used to clean floating solar installations will always return to the very water the flotation system sits on, saving 100% of the water used in cleaning installed solar arrays.
Its nice and cool out there
The floating structure allows the implementation of a simple cooling system. Cooling mechanism is natural, given the ambient temperature at the water line will usually be cooler than on land. Cooling can also be active by generating a water layer on the PV modules. Efficiency rises thanks to the absence of thermal drift, with a gain in energy harvesting up to a reported 10-22%.
Decentralised power supply
Floating solar provides significant opportunity to decentralise power supply, bringing large scale solar power generation much closer to the point of usage than what is currently available to ground mounted solar farms and fossil fuel coal fired power stations. Not only does this mean a greater percentage of renewable energy can be utilised, it also means that for investors into floating solar farms, they mitigate a lot of risk associated with marginal line loss and the writing down of power purchasing agreement (PPA) values, which was recently done in Australia by AEMO. By reducing potential risk, floating solar gives investors great assurity around the security of their investment and the potential for this investment to have the monetary returns agreed to within the PPA.
A large floating platform can be easily turned and can perform a vertical axis tracking: this can typically be done without wasting energy and also without the need for a complex mechanical apparatus as in land-based PV plants. A floating PV plant equipped with a tracking system will have additional cost while the energy gain can range from 15 to 25%.
The presence of water naturally suggests using gravity energy storage mainly in the coupling with hydroelectric basins – floating solar can effectively supercharge hydro stations by providing the power needed to pump water between sites during the day, allowing more power from hydro to be generated at night, whilst also limiting evaporation, which is increasing the battery storage of hydro power.
A parallel advantage is the containment of the algae bloom, a serious problem in many industrialized countries across a variety of industry. The partial or total coverage of water and the reduction of light on biological fouling just below the surface, together with active systems, can solve this problem. This is only a part of the more general problem of managing a water basin generated by industrial activities or polluted by them.
Many studies claim that there is a significant improvement in efficiency putting solar panels over water. Various panel manufacturers report increases that range from 10 – 22%. We continue to monitor this with installations of FloatPac Solar, and will report this back as we continue to grow our offering.
Installation and decommissioning
Floating solar plants are more compact than land-based plants, their management is simpler and their construction and decommissioning straightforward. The main point is that no fixed structures exist like the foundations used for a land-based plant so their installation can be totally reversible.
What are the features of FloatPac Solar?
FloatPac has spent the past 3 years designing and prototyping its new floating solar solution, which is significantly different to what is currently available around the world. Whilst these systems are no doubt good systems, and have served the industry well to this point in time, FloatPac has noted design flaws in these designs, and built its own system ‘from the ground up’, rather than leaning on existing products for inspiration.
With over 35 years’ experience in the flotation industry, FloatPac is perfectly positioned to enter the floating solar market with a new design:
Bigger ISN’T better
The FloatPac Solar system uses one of the smallest flotation pods on the market, at approx. 400 x 400 mm x 90mm height. By weight of numbers, when we install a 1MW floating solar system, we therefore install MORE flotation pods than other systems. But this is not a bad thing – we have kept our cost down through weight of numbers, but more importantly we have factored significant risk mitigation into our system by reducing pod size.
Using the “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” thought process, the larger the pod, the more chance there is it will sink. Flotation works on an air and water principle, and for a floating to sink, it has to have a hole on the bottom of the float and one of top. If a larger pod starts to take on water, a larger section of competitors systems may start to sink. With FloatPac Solar, we would need a much larger percentage of our floats to start taking on water for this to happen.
FloatPac Solar is currently the only floating solar solution to position its panels in a portrait orientation for standard installations. By positioning panels in a portrait configuration, we have increased the efficiency of our systems, which therefore decreases the amount of flotation required for installations, and therefore reduces project costs.
FloatPac Solar is currently the only floating solar system available in the world that can prefabricated large sections of its flotation solution, meaning reduced works needing to be completed onsite, and therefore reduced costs of what is typically the most expensive part of any solar farm project, site installation. This also helps to reduce freight and transport costs, and generally means systems can be deployed and installed quicker than what our competitors can.
Removal of mechanical joints
Most systems currently available use a mechanical joining system, which typically utilises a 2” / 50mm threaded bolt & nut system to join floats together. Because of the nature of water movement and the environments floating solar finds itself installed upon, these mechanical joints have a high risk of failure, either via the nuts loosening, or the mechanical joint snapping.
In light of this, FloatPac Solar uses a novel and tested snap in locking pin mechanism to hold every flotation pod together. By removing threads, we have reduced the maintenance requirements of the FloatPac Solar system, and by removing the mechanical joint system, we have reduced the chances of snapped joints, which can lead to pod failure and reduced flotation of the floating solar system.
FloatPac Solar has removed all void space under installed solar panels. This is done for a variety of reasons, the main result being heightened surface tension between the FloatPac Solar flotation system and the water it sits upon, compared to that of our competitors. By increasing surface tension, we increase flotation and we increase the strength of our system.
The FloatPac Solar floating solar offering fully complies with AS1170 for wind loading of installed solar systems. This is achieved primarily by using a fully tested and accredited racking system which exceeds AS1170, allowing FloatPac Solar to be installed in any category rated area of Australia. FloatPac Solar also meets the following worldwide standards:
- DIN 1055
- JIS C8955:2017
- International Building Code IBC 2009
- California Building Code CBC 2010
Reducing transport costs and environmental impact
FloatPac Solar was designed with transport in mind, and always will be. After all, it’s what FloatPac has been focused on for 37 years! By reducing the amount of fresh air that is transported with our system, and by also ‘cubing out’ the design, which means its naturally suited for all modes of transport, FloatPac Solar offers superior results with respect to the amount of watts of floating solar transported per cubic metre than our competitors, which reduces overall project costs.
If you are interested in discussing our system, and also looking at how FloatPac Solar can become part of your renewable energy future, please do not hesitate to contact us today!
FloatPac Solar’s Australian designed floatovoltaic system focuses on decreasing the impact on the environment by containing algae bloom, enhancing water security, reducing carbon emissions, all while using 100% recyclable floating solar pods and increasing energy generation efficiency.
Gavin Hodgins, FloatPac CEO
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