From the desert to the seas, lakes, reservoirs, and beyond, the growing presence of floating solar installations—hydro-floating photovoltaic projects—in various parts of the world symbolizes the gathering of momentum behind a global race towards a greener future.
In 2021, China and Thailand completed a hydro-floating solar hybrid system in Ubon Ratchathani province, about 660 kilometers east of Bangkok, Thailand.
The Sirindhorn Hydro-Floating Solar Hybrid Project combines the capabilities of a 45-megawatt floating solar farm with the Sirindhorn Dam, which has an equivalent generation capacity. The farm generates electricity from solar power during the day while the dam provides power when there is no sunlight, or when power demand peaks during nighttimes. Covering 700,000 square meters of the dam’s reservoir, this endeavor has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 47,000 tons per year.
The momentum is not limited to Thailand alone. China’s coastal provinces have embraced this sustainable energy wave, embarking on an ambitious mission to build a network of hydro-floating solar projects. From Shandong’s plan to construct two offshore wind and floating solar power plants with Norway’s Ocean Sun that could generate a total capacity exceeding 20 megawatts, to Jiangsu’s 24 offshore wind projects and Guangdong’s Gaozhou Solar PV Park, the trajectory is clear.
The allure of hydro-floating photovoltaic projects
By floating on water surfaces, floating photovoltaic installations bypass the contentious issue of competing for valuable agricultural land, a problem often faced by traditional solar farms. These solar farms can also rehabilitate stripped areas that were formerly coal mines, such as those in Anhui, China. Moreover, floating solar panels can create shade and reduce water temperatures, potentially conserving an estimated 106 cubic kilometers worth of water per year.
Floating systems that deploy solar panels on buoys made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are not harmful to aquatic animals and the environment, making them suitable for deeper waters beyond a depth of five meters. However, operating at deeper depths means that these systems must be designed to withhold adverse weather conditions, such as high waves and ice in colder regions.
Despite their potential, hydro-floating photovoltaic projects are costly endeavors, costing 25 percent more to install than land-based systems due to the materials required, raising questions of economic feasibility. To address these concerns, large-scale deployment and technological advancements are crucial to drive down costs and optimize efficiency.
Another key consideration lies in installation safety and stability. For regions prone to typhoons or extreme weather, floating structures must be robustly designed to ensure their durability. Adaptations for ice formation in winter are also essential in colder regions.
Integrating hydro-floating photovoltaic power into existing grids poses yet another challenge, requiring meticulous planning and coordination with infrastructure providers to establish seamless and efficient transmission of electricity.
The success stories of Singapore and Japan offer valuable insight into the promise of hydro-floating photovoltaic projects. Japan led the way in 2007 by building the world’s first floating photovoltaic power station in Aichi, subsequently establishing several more of such projects, including the 13.7-megawatt plant situated at the Yamakura Dam in Chiba.
In Singapore, a five-megawatt floating offshore photovoltaic project was launched along the Straits of Johor in March 2021. The solar farm, led by sustainable energy provider Sunseap Group, is capable of offsetting more than 4,000 tons of carbon emissions per year.
Hydro-floating photovoltaic projects are at the forefront of renewable energy innovation as the global movement toward clean energy gains momentum. Despite encountering challenges, ongoing advancements in technology and improving economies of scale are steadily reducing costs and enhancing efficiency. Through continuous research and investments, these projects hold the potential to pave a sustainable path toward a brighter, greener future.
This article was adapted based on an article originally written by Silai and published on 36Kr.com. 36Kr Global is authorized to translate, adapt, and publish its contents.