Floating Solar - New Technology, New Challenges

Floating Solar - New Technology, New Challenges

In 2017, the completion of the world's largest floating solar farm had attracted the attention of many first-class media outlets and industry peers at home and abroad.As workers flipped the switch on the array capable of producing 40 megawatts of power, which floats on a man-made lake in Huainan, Anhui, China held the title of "world's largest" in this new innovative field. Built by the company Sungrow Power Supply, the solar farm included the installation of 166,000 panels and generated 40 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 15,000 homes, according to Sarah Zheng at the South China Morning Post. After nearly two years of rapid development, floating solar has gradually become a major application of solar photovoltaics. The question then arises: what new challenges we may encounter when committing ourselves to developing this new technology?

Compared with traditional power plants, floating power plants have many unique advantages. For example, as there is increased demand or pressure on land resources, which consequently become more and more scarce, it is impracticable to further expand the scale of ground photovoltaics. On the contrary, floating power plants do not take up valuable real estate, and reservoirs, abandoned and subsided mines can be effectively used for them. Plus, with admirable cooling effect of water and smooth air flow, the electricity generation efficiency expects to increase by about 10%. What's more, thanks to convenient construction and short construction period, the marginal cost of floating power plants can be considerably reduced. And they reduce evaporation of bodies of water and control algae growth, which benefits aquaculture and fishing.

On the other hand, the construction cost of floating solar farms is higher than that of traditional power plants. Some developers and investors doubt whether a floating solar farm will help to produce more power. In addition, there is no uniform standard in this field in China, which turns out to be a great challenge to the popularization of floating solar.

Xiao Fuqin, deputy general manager of Sungrow Power, said, "After several years of development, commendable efforts have been made in developing floating photovoltaics on China's inland waters, primarily on those medium-sized waters. We have accumulated valuable practical experience and learned helpful lessons. In time to come, we must pay heed to the scattered small floating power plants which are mainly used for poverty alleviation and those larger plants which are located along rivers or on coastal areas. Our aim is to figure out how to customize a copyable design and construction method for small floating power plants, is to undertake research on technical difficulties and address them, and is to perform comprehensive design for large floating power plants under more complicated conditions. Furthermore, we need to maintain a subtle balance between the standardization and the customization of those floating power plants.

According to relevant statistics, it has been confirmed that in most areas, a double-row layout of floating modules with small angle of inclination can effectively reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and increase rate of return on investment. Researchers come to this conclusion through the comparison between the single-row layout (whose angle of inclination is 12°) and the double-row layout (whose angle of inclination is 5°), as well as a comprehensive consideration of the costs, electricity generation capacity, land bearing capacity, and the operation and maintenance of the plants.(Editor: Claire Jeawin)