February 10, 2017

Floatovoltaics: Making a Splash in the Solar Industry

Anna Sciaruto, Solar Incentive Fellow

As solar energy becomes increasingly popular, there effectively becomes less space to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Finding technically viable site locations for projects that require large amounts of space without encroaching on surrounding communities continues to challenge the solar industry and drive innovation. Traditionally, solar panels have been installed on rooftops, in open fields, along highways and in parking lots—until now!

Recently, floating solar photovoltaic panels, also known as floatovoltaics, have become increasingly popular in Japan, France and the United Kingdom. The project closest to home is on a reservoir in Millburn, New Jersey near the New Jersey American Water's Canoe Brook Water Treatment Plant. This project is one of the first successful uses of floatovoltaics in a region which experiences significant freezing and thawing throughout the year.

With 538 solar modules installed, the system generates 115 kilowatts of Alternating Current power per year, generating approximately 2% of the Plant's overall usage. Although this amount may seem small, the power generated from the system saves the utility approximately $16,000 per year in energy costs.

Analyses from the use of floatovoltaic systems in Millburn as well as in other parts of the world, suggest that floating panels may be more advantageous in particular environmental contexts when compared to traditional ground mounted panels. As solar PV panels become hotter throughout the day, they also become less efficient. A typical PV module’s efficiency will be reduced roughly 0.5% for every degree Celsius of temperature increase. By placing panels in a body of water, the temperature is less variable. In a study conducted at Pomona College, researchers found that a pairing water and solar could increase production efficiency by 8-10%.

In addition, floatovoltaics have the potential to provide valuable shading to the bodies of water in which they are installed. This could not only cool the overall water temperature but also lower evaporation rates, ideal for drought-prone areas, and decrease algal blooms.

Massachusetts will continue to keep an eye on these advances in solar technology to ensure renewable energies stay afloat!