What Are Floating Solar Panels?

The future of solar energy may lie in floating systems, as new technology allows them to track and follow the sun.
Jayme Hudspith
July 4, 2024
-
2 min read
2 people fitting floating solar panels on a lake.

Floating solar farms are being installed in lakes, reservoirs, and coastal areas worldwide, including projects in Europe. The capacity of floating solar panels has increased significantly in the last 10 years, reaching up to 1,300 MWp in 2020 compared to only 70MWp in 2015. This technology now accounts for 3.6% of global electricity generation, up from 0.03% in 2006.

Experts believe that covering just 10% of all man-made reservoirs in the world with floating solar could have a capacity of 20 Terawatts (TW), which is 20 times more than the current global solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity.

To meet the energy needs and stay on track for a net-zero emission world, solar energy capacity needs to reach six times the current amount by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. Global geopolitics are also influencing the increased reliance on solar power, as the European Union aims to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas by ramping up renewable energy in the wake of the country's invasion of Ukraine.

In the Netherlands, the "Proteus" project has taken floating solar panels a step further. These solar panels can track and follow the sun to generate as much renewable energy as possible.

In a lake in the southwest Netherlands, 180 movable solar panels with a total installed capacity of 73 kilowatts of peak power (kWp) have been installed. The company SolarisFloat, which built Proteus, believes this small installation could be scaled up to generate large amounts of clean electricity without using valuable land.

Floating solar farms also address the inefficiency caused by the heat of conventional solar panels. Floating solar panels generate extra energy because of the cooling effect of the water they float on.

Solar panels generate electricity using light from the Sun, not its heat. However, when they become too hot, their efficiency decreases due to the heat exciting the panel's electrons. Solar PV panels typically operate at peak efficiency between 15°C and 35°C (59°F and 95°F), but they can get as hot as 65°C (149°F), hindering efficiency.

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The future of solar energy may lie in floating systems, as new technology allows them to track and follow the sun.

Floating solar farms are being installed in lakes, reservoirs, and coastal areas worldwide, including projects in Europe. The capacity of floating solar panels has increased significantly in the last 10 years, reaching up to 1,300 MWp in 2020 compared to only 70MWp in 2015. This technology now accounts for 3.6% of global electricity generation, up from 0.03% in 2006.

Experts believe that covering just 10% of all man-made reservoirs in the world with floating solar could have a capacity of 20 Terawatts (TW), which is 20 times more than the current global solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity.

To meet the energy needs and stay on track for a net-zero emission world, solar energy capacity needs to reach six times the current amount by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. Global geopolitics are also influencing the increased reliance on solar power, as the European Union aims to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas by ramping up renewable energy in the wake of the country's invasion of Ukraine.

In the Netherlands, the "Proteus" project has taken floating solar panels a step further. These solar panels can track and follow the sun to generate as much renewable energy as possible.

In a lake in the southwest Netherlands, 180 movable solar panels with a total installed capacity of 73 kilowatts of peak power (kWp) have been installed. The company SolarisFloat, which built Proteus, believes this small installation could be scaled up to generate large amounts of clean electricity without using valuable land.

Floating solar farms also address the inefficiency caused by the heat of conventional solar panels. Floating solar panels generate extra energy because of the cooling effect of the water they float on.

Solar panels generate electricity using light from the Sun, not its heat. However, when they become too hot, their efficiency decreases due to the heat exciting the panel's electrons. Solar PV panels typically operate at peak efficiency between 15°C and 35°C (59°F and 95°F), but they can get as hot as 65°C (149°F), hindering efficiency.

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