Floating PV systems

From 1973 to 2015, world energy demand and consumption skyrocketed. The consumption of electricity has increased much and CO2 emissions doubled. Emissions from the energy sector account for two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions and 80 % of CO2 emissions.

The latest data show that the drastic curtailment of global economic activity and mobility during the first quarter of 2020 pushed down global energy demand by 3.8% relative to the first quarter of 2019. Due to the pandemic, the global energy demand decreased during the first quarter of 2020 as people were told to stay home and this significantly reduced the CO2 emissions during that time.

Global electricity generation is expected to rise to 45% by 2040. Most of the increase will likely come from solar, wind, and hydropower. Production of electricity from solar by the end of 2019 was 131 TWh. Solar PV is solely dependent on irradiation and has a long lifespan. Solar is now the cheapest form of electricity available on this planet.

However, large installations of PV power plants require vast land areas. Such land might be limited, due to high population density or scarcity. Approximately 75 % of the world’s surface consists of water. By installing PV technology on water bodies, the potential for solar PV increases drastically. Such technology installed on water bodies is called Floating photovoltaics. They are installed on inland water bodies and oceans and are a technology in rapid growth. This technology came into action mainly because of the limited availability of land in countries like Singapore, Japan, etc. This also has the benefit of installing them near grids. The common way of putting them on water bodies is usually by having a floating structure which is called a pontoon and fixing the modules on top of them at a particular angle. Floating PV systems are considered to be the third pillar of the solar industry.


Floating solar systems

Figure 1: Typical Floating PV system.


Technological advantages of FPV technology


Other than the fact that FPV installations help reduce land usage and also save the water from evaporating, FPV has some attractive technical benefits which include the design of the system and most importantly high energy yield when compared to their land-based counterparts.

There is a natural cooling effect of the water body below the solar panels this reduces the module temperature and increases the energy yield. In some cases, it will be difficult to anchor the FPV system but in cases where such difficulty is not there, installing these structures is simple. They are assembled on land and are pushed onto the water body. They are less prone to dust pollution and it also reduces water evaporation but it depends on technology, water body coverage, and characteristics, applied calculation methodology, etc.


Current market status


The United States was the first to demonstrate floating PV panels—with the first installation occurring 10 years ago on pontoons on an irrigation pond in Napa Valley, California. While Asia dominates the current project pipeline, other countries like Brazil, France, Netherlands join as deployment on reservoirs and lakes gathers momentum. It is estimated that the global FPV market will reach 1.6 GW by the end of 2021 which will be more than double the total installed capacity in 2020. The graph below represents the annual global FPV installations.

Figure 2: Annual Global Floating Solar Installations.
Source: Wood and Mackenzie global market services.

It has been predicted that China will dominate FPV installations over the next five years, with India and South Korea trailing close behind. Asian markets like Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Outside Asia, the Netherlands will continue to lead the European FPV market through 2026, with other countries, such as France and Spain, expected to maintain a significant share of the European market by the same year.

While Asia and Europe are expected to hold most of the global FPV capacity through 2026, other markets will emerge over the coming years. The figure below represents the top 10 markets for FPV demand in the world.


 FPV market

Figure 3: Top 10 FPV market from 2020 -2026.
Source: Wood and Mackenzie global market services.

Challenges of FPV systems:

FPV applications are typically more expensive than ground-mount technologies of a similar size and location. This is typical because of high soft costs and the structural balance of system costs. The most important factor is the bathymetry of the water body determines the design layout of the anchoring and mooring system. It should also be able to withstand stronger wind loads. According to the report by Wood Mackenzie. Japan continues to be the highest cost market with average system costs of $2.68/W in 2021, while India currently has the lowest system costs of $0.78/W.

As costs continue to fall, Solar’s share of power supply will rise and begin to displace other forms of generation which will greatly benefit the FPV market. FPV has an important role to play in the energy transition as it presents an opportunity for solar markets facing challenges with traditional PV applications. As more countries commit to competitive solar and overall renewable energy targets, FPV will be key to meeting these goals. This is still a niche industry that has a lot of opportunities in the future.

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