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07.01.21 Swimming solar farms: the potential of “floatovoltaics” Clara Müller • 4 min.

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Summary

Onshore solar farms are as common as offshore wind farms. Offshore solar, or “floatovoltaics,” may sound somewhat incongruous but actually has lots of potential. Read why

The World Bank estimates that Europe, for example, could install about 204 GW of floating solar capacity by using just 10% of its artificially made bodies of water (like former quarries and open-cast mines). It also reports that the world’s total floating solar capacity has increased dramatically in recent years, from 10 MW in 2014 to 1.1 GW in 2019.

One of the largest is Huainan Solar Farm, a 40 MW facility in east-central China that entered service in 2017. Sited at a retired coal mine, it produces enough electricity to power about 15,000 households.

Europe’s biggest is O'Mega 1, a 17 MW facility in southern France that became operational in October 2019. Its 46,000 modules cover about 17 hectares and give it an installed capacity of 17 MW. Other large installations can be found in Japan, Britain, and Singapore.

Floating solar farms have several advantages. For example, the water serves as a coolant, which improves the modules’ yield and extends their operating life. If the location is a former coal mine with a decommissioned mine-mouth power plant, a grid connection is already in place. Another potential application is islands, which often lack space for large solar farms but could site them on the surrounding water (the glint off the water’s surface even provides an additional source of light for power production). Floating modules also help limit evaporation and algae growth. This could be particularly useful in the reservoir of a hydroelectric plant.

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