China’s Solution for Future of FPV is Hybrid FPV + Hydropower

The World Bank estimated that there is a 400 GW global market capacity for floating photovoltaic (FPV) projects under conservative estimations, which is equivalent to the complete world cumulative solar capacity by 2017. This estimation is only based on the total available man-made reservoirs in the world and does not include opportunities due to nearshore and offshore open sea areas.

The countries with current FPV installation are shown in the above photo. The share of China in FPV installed capacity was 73% (950 MW) as of the end of 2018. The country has also taken the leading position in this solar energy segment.

There are about 124.7 thousand km2 of water surface and 46758 hydropower stations in China. By utilizing 2% of this available water surface in the country and PV module’s covering an area of 15 m2/kW, the potential capacity of China for FPV systems can reach 160 GW. This capacity covers about 2500 km2 of water surface and reduces the water evaporation by 2 × 10 power to 27m3/year. If FPV systems are integrated with hydropower stations, the annual electricity generation from floating PV systems would reach more than 200 TWh a year, which corresponds to further indirect water savings of 1.25*10 power to 12 m3. China consumed 7.23 trillion watt-hours in 2019 which the current FPV potential can individually meet 2.76% of total energy consumption in China.

However, this capacity has potential to increase the power output and efficiency of PV modules in recent years and it approaches 13.3 m2/kW for FPV. With the same size of coverage, the FPV potential will be 188 GW in the country.

Expanding hydropower capacity opens up abundant opportunities for combining hydropower with the FPV power plant. This combination has several advantages over a standalone FPV plant including 

  • Higher power generation by hydropower dam or reservoir due to the less water evaporation.
  • Reduction in the overall the Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for the FPV power plant owing to the existing grid infrastructure.
  • Complementing the hydropower electricity generation due to the seasonal variants of stored water in dam/reservoir (more sustainable electricity generation).
  • More cost-effective due to the making synergy in the water-energy nexus even if the subsidies drop significantly down under an insufficient government budget.
  • Greater reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • A suitable solution for areas where there is a land-scarcity issue.

Conclusion

Ground-mounted PV module installations in China have faced obstacles due to land scarcity issues and reduction of PV module performance due to soiling issues while FPV systems overcome these challenges. The potential capacity of China for FPV systems reaches 160 GW and could be closed to 188 GW with 13.3 m2/kW PV module’s covering area for FPV. The former potential can meet 2.76% of total energy consumption in China and save water by 2 × 10 power to 27m3/year when combined with hydropower. This huge potential only can be harnessed by utilizing 2% of the water surface in the country. It is worth mentioning that the hybrid option, FPV plus hydropower dam/reservoir, is not only in line with the latest five-year plan released by the central government but it also has several advantages over pure FPV installation including higher power generation than the summation of separately power generation, further reduction in the LCOE, complementing seasonal variants of hydropower electricity generation, being cost-effective even if subsidies drop-down, and finally leading to higher GHG emissions, CO2 emissions in particular. To conclude, China is the leading country in both ground-mounted and FPV segments, the country has huge untapped FPV potential for meeting its electricity demand along with covering its climate change targets.

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