Floating Solar PV is a promising technology which enables us to harness solar power by floating it in water. On the other hand, Hydropower is an established technology to produce electricity. But what would happen if we were to combine the power of both of them?’
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), combining floating solar panels and hydropower plants has the potential to produce a large portion of the required electricity around the globe annually.
The research found that adding floating solar panels to a hydropower plant can produce 7.6 terawatts (10,600 terawatt-hours) of extra potential power in a year just from the solar panels alone. For reference in 2018 (the most recent year that its statistics are available) the global electric consumption was just over 22,300 terawatt-hours.
Although the numbers above pose a rosy picture, the reality is far from it. As Nathan Lee, a researcher with NREL points out; “This is really optimistic,” but “This(study) does not represent what could be economically feasible or what the markets could actually support. Rather, it is an upper-bound estimate of feasible resources that considers waterbody constraints and generation system performance.”
The floating solar market has seen remarkable growth over the last few years. The number of individual installations per year has been on the rise since 2013. By the end of 2019, more than 338 floating solar installations are expected to be completed globally in 35 countries, up from 27 countries in 2018. Today’s floating solar market is concentrated in Asia, where 87 percent of global capacity is located. South Korea and Taiwan are the region’s largest markets.
Unfortunately in the US floating solar plants are not widely used. If installed on man-made reservoirs in the US, according to NREL, It could generate about 10 percent of the nation’s annual electricity production.
NREL estimates that 379,068 freshwater hydropower reservoirs around the globe have the capacity to install floating panels on the existing hydropower facilities.
There are other potential benefits of combining floating solar panels and hydropower plants. It would reduce transmission costs by linking to a common substation. Also, both technologies can complement each other. Solar panels have the best efficiency during the dry seasons, and for hydropower, rainy seasons have the best potential. The operators of a hybrid system could also store the excess energy generated by solar panels using pumped-storage hydropower.
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