13.7MW floating solar power plant on the Yamakura Dam reservoir, Japan. Credit: Kyocera TCL
Picture this – if an entire nation’s land is required for agriculture or housing, then how do you increase the solar energy output? Japan is already showing the way by taking the route of the water.
Space-starved Japan has the world’s first floating solar plant built in Aichi Prefecture in central Honshu. Japan’s many inland lakes and reservoirs are home to 73 of the world’s 100 largest floating solar plants. The biggest Japanese floating solar plant is constructed on the Yamakura Dam at Ichihara in Chiba prefecture. The plant is projected to generate an estimated 16,170-megawatt hour [MWh] per year.
The Yamakura dam power plant will reportedly see over 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels covering a 180,000 m sq area. However, compared to other land-based plants it is relatively small. At 13.7MW when finished, it would reportedly not make the top 100 of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic farms.
Meanwhile, floating solar is considered well-suited to Asia, as land is scarce. And, quite a few hydroelectric dams exist with transmission infrastructure. It is reported that China has connected the world’s biggest floating solar plant at Anhui, which would reportedly generate almost 78,000 megawatts in its first year, which is enough to power 21,000 homes. Apart from which, South Korea is due to complete the world’s largest floating solar plant. The plant would deliver 102.5 megawatts, capable of powering 35,000 homes. And, Singapore is said to have built an offshore floating solar power plant in the Strait of Johor.
The technology is quite new and it is reported that floating solar is around 16% more efficient than land-based systems. Apart from which, floating solar panels can stop the growth of algae, which can harm fish stocks and slow the rate of evaporation from reservoirs.
Around the world, floating solar output grew 100-fold from 2014 to 2018, and could provide more power than conventional land-based systems. And, India recently announced its plans to create 10 gigawatts of floating solar capacity.
Though floating solar has massive potential, some critique that it could harm marine ecosystems by blocking sunlight. Critics also point out the vulnerability to bad weather. However, on the positive side floating solar linked to hydroelectric plants has the potential to maintain power supplies when water levels drop. Experts are also hopeful that the solar panels would work well where power grids are weak. In conclusion, floating solar power plants has limitless possibilities and is the answer for nations who are short of land.