Floatovoltaics: What To Know About Floating Solar Panel Farms
If the use of solar energy is to increase dramatically, many rooftops and plots of land need to be covered in photovoltaic (PV) modules. Roofs are often excellent for solar panels, but not all are well-suited for panels, and vacant land is often scarce and expensive in urban areas. Another idea is to use the vast area of the Earth covered in water to generate solar power.
Thus, a newer alternative, floating photovoltaic systems, is gaining popularity for certain applications. But are floating solar panels the new frontier of clean energy or too expensive and impractical? Let’s explore this innovative topic to find out.
What Is Floating Solar?
Floatovoltaics or floating photovoltaics (FPV) projects have solar modules that float on a body of water, including lakes, lagoons, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers. The PV panels need to be above the surface of the water, so they are usually attached to something buoyant that doesn’t rust easily. Floating solar farms are gradually becoming more widespread, especially near densely populated areas where vacant land is scarce or prohibitively expensive.
Some of the most common placements of floating solar farms currently include hydroelectric dam reservoirs, drinking water reservoirs, and wastewater treatment ponds. These manufactured bodies of water are already disturbed sites, and hydropower plants have existing power transmission infrastructure for distributing the hydropower.
However, some solar developers are also experimenting with mounting solar panels out at sea on offshore solar farms. Oceans cover 70% of the surface of our planet, so there is ample space for mounting PV panels. However, installing solar panels at sea can present additional challenges.
Potential Benefits Of Floating Solar Panels
Locating utility-scale renewable energy projects near population centers is ideal, but available land is relatively scarce and expensive in most urban areas. In rural farming communities, where land is more plentiful, there is concern that converting farmland to utility-scale solar farms could be detrimental to food security. However, floating solar photovoltaics take up little or no land area and take advantage of space that has few, if any, other development opportunities.
Solar panel efficiency often decreases when they heat up above 77°F. For example, most solar panels have a temperature coefficient of.0.3%°C to.0.5%°C. That means that for every degree Celsius, the efficiency reduces by a fraction of a percent. Unfortunately, in hot climates, this reduction in efficiency can really reduce solar power output. Mounting solar PV panels above water can have a natural cooling effect, boosting solar energy production.
Another benefit of floatovoltaics is that modules can help shade the body of water, preventing freshwater evaporation. This can be especially beneficial in dry climates or during droughts. In fact, a 2021 study showed that covering 4,000 miles of California canal with solar canopies could conserve 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation.
When solar contractors install floating solar farms at hydroelectric dam reservoirs, they can often use the existing utility infrastructure for the solar energy, reducing development costs. Likewise, solar engineers are also examining combining offshore wind farms and floating solar farms. which can use the same transmission line. For example, there is a project planned in the North Sea near the Netherlands with 5 megawatts of solar capacity, aiming to begin operation in 2026.
India’s largest floating solar power plant in Ramagundam excels; NTPC to set up more such units
Ramagundam in Telangana State is known for its blistering summer heat. Locally, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Agnigundam (firewell) in Telugu language. For all those travelling to Delhi by train during summers (especially, non AC class) from Hyderabad, the few hours of journey through Ramagundam, Mancherial and Adilabad to Nagpur will always be remembered for braving the heat.
In 1978, the public sector, NTPC came up with its first thermal unit in the town to generate power and supply to the southern state. Very soon, it became synonymous with Ramagundam. Today, the NTPC has grown into 2640 MW capacity plant, one of its largest sites in the country.
In mid 2022, Ramagundam, now part of Peddapalli district added a new first with the commissioning of the country’s largest Floating Solar Power Plant as on date by the NTPC. It’s about 5 km from the town.
The 100 MW, Solar Photovoltaic (PV) unit executed by the BHEL is a 4-5 hour drive from Hyderabad and is quite scenic, spread over the waters of the balancing reservoir of the NTPC Power plant.
A unique feature of the project is that all the electrical equipment is floating on the reservoir. Engineers constructed ferro-cement floating platforms (15.5 m x8 m x 1.2 m) on which Inverter, Transformer HT breaker is placed.
In just over six months into its operational phase, the project has raised the expectations of setting up similar plants and rapidly increasing the generation of clean, renewable and environmentally friendly power in the long term.
The making of the project
The NTPC awarded the Rs 423 crore contract to BHEL in June 2019 as an EPC package. The project is developed on 450 acres of the Balancing reservoir of NTPC Ramagundam Station
The project consists of 4 units of 25 MW each with a total capacity of 100 MW AC and 145 MW DC. The Power evacuation of the project is at 33 kV level through NTPC Ramagundam switchyard.
About 4.5 lakh solar PV modules, all made in India were used in the plant. The anchoring of the project is done through bottom anchoring by using pre-cast concrete blocks of 9 Ton weights.
The plant is designed to generate 222.965 MU in the first year of its operation with a capacity utilisation factor of 24.45%.
Advantages of the project
The major advantages of this project are minimizing the water evaporation, no land usage and higher generation of power in comparison to ground based solar plants. Further, Coal consumption of 1,65,000 Tons / year can be reduced and 2,10,000 tons of Co2 emission per year can be avoided.
The ED of the Ramagundam Unit, Sunil Kumar said, the NTPC will soon have 300 MW of floating solar power in place in the country. Earlier, NTPC declared Commercial operation of the 92 MW Floating Solar at Kayamkulam (Kerala) and 25 MW Floating Solar at Simhadri (Andhra Pradesh). Another couple of units are under construction in different regions.
However, some experts argue that the floating solar plants could have an impact on the water ecosystem in the lakes, reservoirs or other water bodies on which these plants are located, if adequate precautions are not taken in terms of contamination of water and consequent impact on marine life, if any.
NTPC renewables plans
The thrust on renewable energy in the context of India’s global commitments to reducing fossil fuel also put the responsibility on the NTPC to diversify. It has firmed up plans to have 60GW capacity through renewable energy sources by 2032, constituting nearly 45% of its overall power portfolio.
NTPC Renewables, it’s new identity created a few years ago has a commissioned capacity of more than 1500 MW of solar power projects under own capacity. These include some sizeable solar power projects in Bilhaur, Ananthapuram, Bhadla, Mandsaur etc.
According to reports, the company has firmed up plans to set up an ambitious 755 MW floating solar park to be developed at DVC’s Tilaiya and Panchet reservoirs in Jharkhand in north-eastern India.
NTPC Renewables, on behalf of Green Valley Renewable Energy, its joint venture (JV) with Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), has opened a tender for 220 kV transmission assets to evacuate the power generation of the project.
The other major project in the pipeline of the power utility is the Khavda Solar Project in Gujarat State, one of the largest individual solar power plants in the world (1,568 MWp).The project implementer is Sterling and Wilson (SW). It is supported by Nextracker Inc. which is providing the bifacial optimized NX Horizon solar tracker technology with heavily domestic manufactured content, aligned with the Government of India’s “Make-in-India” initiative.
SW and Nextracker have implemented several projects in India, Australia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East regions over the years, according to reports.
This post was last modified on April 17, 2023 6:00 pm
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad
Noria Energy launches South America’s largest floating solar project at Colombia’s Urrá Dam
SAUSALITO, Calif June 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/.- A new solar power system floating on the reservoir at Colombia’s Urrá Dam will demonstrate that hydroelectric dams dealing with fluctuating water levels can pair with floating solar generation to boost energy reliability and increase production.
Noria Energy conceived and led development of the 1.5 MW solar project, which is the largest of its kind in South America. Noria also developed one of the largest floating solar systems currently operating in North America : a 4.78 MW system that provides about 8% of the electricity for the city of Healdsburg, California.
Worldwide, around 60% of renewable energy comes from hydropower. That represents countless opportunities to deploy floating solar that can maximize zero-emission energy generation and diversify clean energy sources, said Noria Energy CEO Jonathan Wank .
In addition to boosting total generating capacity of hydroelectric dams, Noria’s floating solar systems can help keep power flowing when low water levels or other adverse conditions reduce hydroelectric output. The floating solar system is designed to sit on top of the water and withstand water-level fluctuations of up to 120 feet.
Siting solar facilities on water also avoids land-use conflicts, and pairing them with dams takes advantage of existing interconnection and other energy infrastructure.
Noria Energy, along with its partners 1Solution, DISICO S.A, GC, Isigenere, and Seaflex, designed, developed, and installed the floating photovoltaic system as a pilot project for the independent power producer URRÁ S.A. E.S.P.
URRÁ seeks to incorporate innovation and sustainable development in all its operations. We are very proud that Aquasol is the largest floating photovoltaic plant built at a reservoir of a hydroelectric power plant in South America to date, said Rafael Amaya del Vecchio. president of URRÁ S. A. E.S.P. URRÁ thanks Noria for leading the design of the photovoltaic system and the other companies of the Aquasol consortium for helping us make this project a reality.
The Urrá pilot – called Aquasol – is installed at the 340 MW Urrá hydropower plant in the Sinú River basin in Córdoba. Aquasol consists of over 2,800 solar modules and is expected to produce nearly 2,400 MWh of power in its first year — enough to offset the amount of energy it takes to operate the dam. Additionally, Aquasol is expected to avoid more than 1,540 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, and generate over 450.2 million in additional electric power revenue over 20 years.
Our technology demonstrates that we can expand solar’s reach and reimagine its power to address critical energy needs. I’m thrilled that my home country is hosting this innovative project, said Colombia native Jairo Criollo, Noria’s co-founder and head of business development. What we have learned from this project will help us develop other Aquasol projects in Colombia and around the world.
As part of the pilot project, Noria Energy will assist in comparing Aquasol’s production and efficiency to that of a ground-mounted solar system installed on the shore. Additionally, Noria will use the data from Aquasol to design and model larger-scale systems to maximize the generation potential of floating solar and hydroelectric dams.
Media Contact: Carina Daniels [email protected] 510-847-1617
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Solutions for Power Producers
Taking yet another step towards a Greener Nation, Tata Power Solar installed India’s largest floating solar power project, with a capacity of 101.6 Megawatt Peak, put into operation in Kayamkulam, Kerala on a 350-acre water body, backwaters area.
The Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FSPV) through Power Purchase Agreement project is the first of its kind. It is also one of the first projects of Tata Power Solar to have CCTVs monitored and tracked around-the-clock for enhanced security and malfunction identification.
This 101.6 MWp capacity solar plant’s large-scale installation and commissioning were the fastest in the FSPV category and secured a Commercial Operation Date (CoD) certification on 24th June’22. It boasts a floating inverter platform having a 5 Megawatt (MW) capacity for the first time at Tata Power.
Tata Power Solar has achieved a landmark project with the completion of this floating solar project that along with lowering the carbon emissions (64142 tonnes), also creatively utilises the unused area top of water body energy that will generate 167150 MWh of energy annually. A total number of 2,05,497 modules were entailed in the installation.
The Kerela State Electricity Board will consume all the power produced by this project under a power purchase agreement that has been executed with a PSU client (KSEB). It’s interesting to note that Tata Power Solar safely carried, unloaded, and stored every solar module utilized in this plant for around 35 days on a small plot of land. It took 19 months for the completion of the project, however there was delay in Supply of Modules due to which project activities stranded for almost 10 months. A 350-person team that was entrusted with accelerating the project in accordance with contract agreements was also based in the factory during its construction stages and the project clocked 10,20,488 safe man-hours, without any incident during the commissioning.
Dredging of soil strata underwater and heavy monsoon caused a major challenge and to overcome it 134 cast pile foundations bored to a depth of 20 metres underwater were used to support the Central Monitoring and Control Stations (CMCS) and the 33/220 kilovolts switchyard. Low water levels during the installation and towing of the floats caused a delay in positioning the mooring in the waterbody. The solar modules were exposed to strong winds and gushing tides reaching a height of 3.5 metres that were towed for 3 kilometers on a 15 meters deep sea-linked National waterway. Other difficulties faced by the team were local fishermen’s encroachment including theft, blocking the walkway with fishing nets, and causing damage to built-in structures.
Despite the arduous challenges of variable water depths, high sea tides, and severe water salinity concerns faced throughout the project’s construction, the project was commissioned successfully.