As Climate Change becomes an ever increasing problem, nations are turning to alternative technologies and geological engineering to offset the effects. This means significant investments being made in technologies such as solar cells and other clean energies. However, the question of where to put all the resulting arrays is one which cannot be overlooked. Since we are trying to save the environment, it doesn’t exactly make sense to clear more tracts of land to make room for them.
Already, there is a land rush to build more solar power plants all around the world. In the U.S., the Department of Interior is currently processing leases for roughly 1.8 million acres in the West alone. Globally, solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has been doubling annually, with another 16 gigawatts of power added just in 2010. At this rate, and considering how much space is needed to set up the average array, we could run out of room real fast!
And yet, the one thing that accounts for the majority of the planet’s surface area has been sadly neglected up until this point. I am of course referring to the oceans, lakes, reservoirs, retention ponds, and all other natural or unnatural bodies of water. As they account for over three-quarters of the planet’s real estate, they are quickly being targeted as the new frontier for floating solar power plants, with companies and locations being considered from India to Europe, to Napa Valley.
One of the more ambitious plans comes to us from Switzerland, will a proposed array will be built on Lake Neuchâtel later this year. As a collaborative effort between the solar developer Nolaris and the Swiss energy company Viteos, the proposed floating array will be the first of three set upon the lake. Each island will measure some 25 meters in diameter, be built from plastic and steel, and support 100 photovoltaic cells that will rotate with the sun.
What’s more, this is just one of several ideas under consideration. Other companies pursuing this concept are favoring floating pontoons with individual photovoltaic assemblies on the water’s surface. In this case, concentrating lenses will focus the sunlight on a solar cell while a simple motor, light sensors, and software rotate the cells to maximize power generation. In tropical climes, where many pilot projects are being considered and storms are quite common, the entire array will be able to submerge as the winds rise.
In other places, where land is particularly expensive, floating solar may even come to rival its land-based counterpart. In Australia, for example, a company named Sunengy is pushing the concept of “Liquid Solar Array” technology, which they claim will be able to match the power output of a typical hydroelectric dam and cover less than 10% of the reservoir’s surface. They are currently teaming up with the Indian giant Tata Power to build India’s first floating solar power plant, and estimate that if India used just 1% of its 11,500 square kilometers of captured water it could generate the equivalent of 15 large coal-fired power stations.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. And as it stands, planet Earth needs energy, and needs to generate it in such a way that won’t mess up the environment any further or usher in the scourge of Climate Change. When the survival of our planet and our species is at stake, you can expect people to get very inventive. Very, very inventive!