Energy Afloat: The Emergence of Floating Solar Panels for Energy Production
Written By: Julian Knight
Edited By: Ada Collins
Global demand for clean and renewable energy has recently seen a sharp increase as new technologies for energy production have been developed. Though multiple countries are investing in cleaner sources of energy, hurdles are being met due various factors. Hydroelectricity requires expensive infrastructure for dams, geothermal energy can only be produced on certain terrains, and the efficiency of windmill energy depends on the weather forecast. In response to these issues, floating solar panels have started to gain popularity. Though regular solar energy is a relatively efficient source of energy, it can be somewhat limiting due to the amount of land that is required.
The world’s first floating solar plant was built in 2007 on the pacific coast of Japan. Since then, many regions of Japan have followed suit. The construction of these plants was not for experimental purposes, but rather for practical and widespread energy production. Instead, they have produced energy for thousands of homes in Japan, resulting in a truly sustainable method of energy production. Since then, many other countries in Asia such as Singapore have emulated Japan’s solar model. In Europe, countries like the Netherlands have been considered the pioneers of floating solar plants in the region. Part of the reason why the Netherlands has been able to generate the infrastructure for these plants is due to its abundance of freshwater. Given that panels eventually corrode in salt water, floating solar panels are significantly more expensive to maintain when placed in salt water. Similarly, the Honshū Island of Japan contains a significant reserve of lakes, thus providing space for the placement of floating panels.
Floating solar panels, while having proven a significant development in the energy sector, have only been constructed in a handful of countries. Similar to other sources of energy production, floating panels work well for countries with a specific physical and political geography. Countries such as the Netherlands, Japan and Singapore all face the same issue: they do not have abundant land at their disposal. Though countries such as the United States and Canada are fortunate enough to have vast solar panels on land, smaller countries cannot afford this, as land is a less common asset. While smaller countries typically have free land at their disposal, it is often reserved for ex-urban development due to population increase, making floating solar panels an ideal option.
The installation of floating solar panels, however, has negative effects on the marine ecosystem. When floating panels are installed, the body of water they cover lacks oxygen from the atmosphere. This deoxygenation of the bottom layer of water often causes nutrients around the ocean floor to rise near the surface, which can kill a large portion of the marine ecosystem. That said, there are many positive effects that these solar panels can have on humans. For instance, the placement of solar panels can block UV rays from the sun, which in turn makes the water less prone to algae. This means that the water is saved from many toxins, having a positive effect on our water consumption.
In conclusion, floating solar panels have emerged as a new mode of renewable energy. Countries like the Netherlands, Singapore, and Japan have made significant developments in this field. With their many advantages when compared to traditional solar panels installed on land, floating solar panels have the potential to revolutionize the way many regions of the world generate energy. As the world moves towards a more environmentally sustainable future, it is essential to invest in new modes of renewable energy such as floating solar panels. These technologies can help us reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, it is important to acknowledge that this mode of energy production has a significant effect on marine biodiversity. The next step would be to find ways that will counter the negative effects of floating solar panels in order to protect oceanic wildlife.
Battersby, Stephen. 'How to expand solar power without using precious land'. PNAS News Feature | Engineering. PNAS 2023. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2301355120
Gerretsen, Isabelle. 'The Floating Solar Panels That Track the Sun'. Future Planet | Energy. BBC Future, 2022.