Floating solar panels come with numerous benefits: high energy production, lower carbon footprint, and great efficiency. But what are floating solar panels?
These platform-mounted, photovoltaic modules float on water reservoirs, lakes, seas, and oceans. The floating solar panels are challenging to maintain and costly to construct.
They contain various components such as PV modules, floaters, a mooring system, central inverter, transformer, transmission system, et cetera.
The following article allows you to delve into the functions of each component of floating solar panels. It will also help you understand the technology, working, efficiency, benefits, and disadvantages of these solar panels in detail.
How Do Floating Solar Panels Work?
Floating solar panels consist of the following components:
- PV modules: They harness the sun’s energy and transfer it for conversion into usable power.
- Floaters: The interconnected plastic rafts for mounting solar panels.
- Mooring system: They’re the anchors that support the floating solar panels from the water’s floor.
- Combine box: It gathers the output of all the panels and feeds it into the central inverter.
- Central inverter: Converts DC power to AC power.
- Transformer: Steps down power for transmission.
- Cabling: They’re the connections to integrate solar panels, inverter, combine box, and transformer.
- Transmission system: Inland connection line for transporting power wherever it’s needed.
- Floating walkways: Access point from the inland side.
These solar panels are made of anti-rust material with a buoyant body. They are highly humidity resistant, lead-free, dustproof, and well protected from water effects.
The buoyancy comes from polyethylene. The magnesium alloy coating makes the floating structure highly resistant to corrosion.
The Efficiency of Floating Solar Panels
Floating solar panels are amongst the most innovative devices for capturing solar energy. The latest technology involved in designing these solar panels boosts their energy efficiency.
In addition to utilising the sun’s direct rays, they also use the reflected light from the water surface. Moreover, the floating photovoltaic panels are estimated to be about 11% more efficient than terrestrial panels.
The temperature reduction brings about a major change due to the surrounding water. The enhanced efficiency of floating solar panels is a major contributing factor to their popularity as India ranks second in terms of having the largest floating solar farms worldwide.
Pros and Cons of a Floating Solar Panel
Floating solar panel benefits outnumber the demerits. Having said that, let’s now walk you through both.
- No Valuable Land Space is Lost: In contrast to ground-mounted solar panels, floating panels do not take up valuable land space. Thus, the large solar panel systems eliminate the need for deforestation.
- Environmental Benefits: They reduce water evaporation and algae blooms on the surface of water bodies. They generate clean, renewable energy and help reduce dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels.
- Better Solar Performance: Unlike ground-mounted panels, the efficiency of floating panels is not reduced by high temperatures. That’s primarily because water provides a cooling effect.
- Expensive: They are costlier than traditional PV systems as they require specialised equipment and knowledge.
- Limited Application: These panels are not ideal for all; rather, they are more suitable for large-scale installations.
Cost of Floating Solar Panels
The cost of floating solar panels is high compared to ground-mounted panels. Setting up a 1MW floating solar plant costs up to Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 1.5 crores. It is a huge investment.
The cost of floaters contributes to almost 50% of the entire cost. Despite the high cost, these solar projects are quite rewarding.
Also, there are several ways to make floating solar systems more cost-effective. One way is by setting up floating solar panel systems in areas with other power generation plants like hydrothermal systems.
The nearby power generation system helps reduce the cost of distributing the power generated by floating solar panels.
Maintenance of a Floating Solar Panel
As water provides the cooling effect, little maintenance is needed for floating solar panels. Also, rainfall helps in the cleaning process. The following measures are taken for the cleaning and maintenance of solar panels.
- Manual Cleaning: Professional workers and the right materials are chosen for the manual cleaning of floating solar panels. Special care is needed while choosing the materials. That’s because certain cleaning chemicals can hinder the performance of floating solar panels.
- Sprinklers: Both air and water can be used in self-cleaning. Sprinklers are suitable for arid regions. They simulate the cleaning effect of rainfall; thereby, cleaning the panels at a relatively low cost.
- Forced Airflow: Forced airflow with an air-conditioner is also used for cleaning.
- Robotic: Robotic maintenance techniques help clean and repair floating solar panels. It’s also a cost-effective option that reduces wastage of water despite the high purchase cost.
A Floating solar farm is among the most promising recent developments. It is an ideal power generation source for countries like India where there’s high population density and stiff competition for limited available land.
Floating solar farms will likely grow as a major effort to address climate change. Several countries have opted for large-scale floating solar farms.
India has already made it on the list with a high-capacity solar farm in Madhya Pradesh. High costs come as a major hindrance in its path to popularity, but as the technology develops, experts estimate that the cost and technical challenges will drop.
Q1. Are floating solar panels suitable for homeowners?
Unfortunately, no. The floating solar panel systems do not make sense for homeowners as they demand access to a lake or water body that most homeowners do not have.
Rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels are suitable for household purposes.
Q2. How do floating solar panels work differently from ground-mounted ones?
Floating solar panels function in the same manner as land-based systems. The major difference is that they are mounted on floating platforms. Combiner boxes assimilate the DC electricity after generation, and solar inverters convert it into AC power.
Q3. Which is the largest floating solar farm?
In India, the Omkareshwar Dam floating solar farm has a 600 MW capacity. It is located on the Narmada river in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, India.
Q4. What are the environmental impacts of floating solar power plants?
The floating solar power plants have both positive and negative impacts.
The positive impacts include evaporation reduction, cooling of water bodies, and algal bloom reduction.
The negative aspects include the reduction of sunlight in the deep-sea environment when floating solar panels are not properly spaced out.