ORIGINAL REPORTING: Floating solar offers unique bargains that U.S. utilities are missing
Floating solar offers unique bargains — U.S. utilities are missing out; Siting photovoltaics on water is proving reliable worldwide and the PVs could meet almost 10% of U.S. electricity needs at market-competitive costs, according to NREL.
Herman K. Trabish, April 4, 2019 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Floating solar continues to make progress.
Solar arrays floating on man-made bodies of water can now be cost-competitive with ground-mounted solar and offer unique benefits to utilities. While the technology has a number of advantages, growth in the U.S. has been limited by a lack of definitive data on benefits and financing obstacles due to banks that are reluctant to loan money for projects.
Floating photovoltaic (FPV) solar, sometimes called "floatovoltaics," is still a peculiarity in the U.S., but the technology has been proven commercially viable in over 100 projects globally. The world's first commercial-scale project was built in California, but in the last two years, China has seized the opportunity and now holds over 90% of the world's 1.1 GW installed capacity, according to an October 2018 World Bank report. FPV could cost-competitively provide almost 10% of U.S. power, according to a December 2018 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study. And it offers other unique benefits many U.S. utilities can take advantage of, early movers in the domestic market told Utility Dive.
Floating solar arrays are essentially the same as ground-mounted or building rooftop arrays. But they are sited on water bodies, mostly man-made "wastewater storage ponds, reservoirs, remediation and tailing ponds, and agricultural irrigation or retention ponds," according to NREL. Using the "extremely conservative assumptions" of only 27% of U.S. man-made water bodies, and only 12% of those bodies' surface area, "we concluded floating solar could produce almost 10% of U.S. electricity," NREL Energy-Water-Land Lead Analyst and report co-author Jordan Macknick told Utility Dive.
"As of mid-2018, the cumulative installed capacity of floating solar was approaching 1.1 GW," the World Bank reported. That was the U.S. ground-mounted solar installed capacity in 2000. Projects over 1 MW "began to emerge in 2013," the World Bank reported. The first over-10 MW project was built in 2016. By 2018, 100 MW-plus plants were operating in China and planned in India and Southeast Asia.
China "has almost 1 GW of installed capacity, most on collapsed coal mines where water has pooled in highly toxic unusable lakes," Dubratkova said. "As many as 40 countries around the world with limited land and low cost solar are considering projects." Just 1% of the world's man-made water body surfaces could theoretically host over 400 GW of nameplate generation, the World Bank found… click here for more
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