The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm

Roughly 150km south of Shanghai a gigantic 
civil engineering experiment is underway   that’s causing international 
ripples in more ways than one. Potentially capable of providing 50% 
of the world’s ongoing energy needs,   the clean and green technology being trialled 
in China’s Hangzhou Fengling Electricity Science   Technology solar park will also provide 
employment and nutritious food for locals. So what are the main benefits of floating 
solar? How likely is it to be rolled   out worldwide as a meaningful 
solution to the energy crisis? Join us today as we take to the water for a voyage 
into the world’s largest floating solar farm. As our civilization starts to meaningfully 
grapple with the essential transition over   to cleaner energy sources, lots of 
ambitious solutions are proposed.   From colossal offshore wind farms, 
to vast hydroelectric energy plants One newish idea is so obvious it 
almost seems a bit ridiculous.

Solar panels are clean, efficient and improving 
all the time, but they need a large footprint,   taking up land near population centres that could 
otherwise be used for housing or agriculture. But a few big projects around the world have 
realised that an ideal place to stash big   solar arrays is on the water, especially 
adjacent to existing hydropower plants. Experts report as many as 10GW of new floating   solar farms will come on stream 
by the middle of this decade. One advantage of putting them on bodies of 
water already used on existing hydropower   is lower transmission costs. If the 
infrastructure to transmit energy to   the grid is already on site, that’s obviously 
a big plus.

But it’s even cleverer than that.   Hydro and solar energy plants are both 
seasonal – naturally during a dry season,   solar is better, but during a wet season, Hydro 
is more productive. So together, on the whole,   they can help even each other out during their 
respective lean times. It’s kind of a no brainer. Not only will the water cool the solar panels, 
which happens to make them work more efficiently,   but the placement of panels 
can actually help maintain   those all-important water levels at the reservoir. How? Coverage by the panels naturally reduces 
the amount of water that evaporates,   which is obviously a pretty big deal 
in drought-prone parts of the world.   They could also limit algae growth, and offer 
useful shelter to fish and other water life. So where’s the world’s 
biggest floating solar farm? Covering some 300 hectares across the Changhe and 
Zhouxiang reservoirs in Cixi, Zhejiang province,   China, the Hangzhou Fengling Electricity Science 
Technology solar farm presently holds the title.

Built in two phases – a 300GWH section completed 
in 2017, that alone powers some 100,000 homes,   and a later 120MW tranche opened a little 
over a year ago costing about $100m –   employs some pretty innovative technology. Not least the inverters – kit designed to convert 
the variable direct current output of photovoltaic   panels into a useful alternating current to 
be fed into the electrical grid and in turn   to your home. Inverters here need to be designed 
to cope with wet and sometimes choppy conditions. In the case of the giant Hangzhou Fengling plant, 
Chinese inverter maker Shenzhen Kstar Science and   Technology provided its catchily named GSL2500C-MV 
and GSL1250 sealed inverters for the job. Collectively, the two-phase project 
now generates some 352 million KWH,   which should generate about 
$45million dollars a year in revenue. Moreover, the giant complex – 
which required the building of   two new 110-kV booster stations by 
the state-owned Grid Corp of China,   and nearly nine miles of cables – is actually 
helping the local economy and marine environment.

How? The solar panels are spread across the reservoir 
with enough gaps that light can penetrate and   support a healthy subaquatic ecosystem. This means 
fish can live and thrive, with the added bonus   that the panels serve as artificial islands that 
shield fish from natural predators like birds. Locals can also navigate along carefully 
laid out channels and, when the fish have   reached sufficient size, to reel them in 
for the local and national consumer market. Economic analyses of the set up have estimated 
the value to the local fishing community   in terms of income could reach as high 
as $5 million, each and every year. Overall, with the income from power brought 
into the equation, it’s believed the plant’s   eye-watering $260 million dollar cost will be 
recouped in as little a s seven to eight years. If the technology can be shown to work 
reliably – and so far it is – this could   be a huge game changer in energy generation 
around the world. A US government study,   for instance, has demonstrated that 
if similar schemes were rolled out   across American man-made bodies of 
water the nation could generate 10%   of its national energy needs.

And that’s without 
expanding onto natural waterways or the oceans. Worldwide, it’s believed as much as 10,6000 
TWh could be generated annually by waterborne   photovoltaic – that just means solar – panels. 
According to 2018 figures by the International   Energy Agency, world-wide energy consumption 
is just over twice that, at 22,300 TWh. And worldwide a number of projects are 
looking to exploit early encouraging   results demonstrated by floating solar technology. In the Netherlands, a project called Zon-op-Zee 
– which literally translates to ‘The sun in the   sea’ – has shown that a promising 17kw array 
can be scaled up in a modular fashion, and   crucially absorb unpleasant buffering by the local 
unpredictable and perenially stormy conditions. Set to eclipse the Hangzhou Fengling reservoir 
project covered earlier in this video,   a gargantuan 2.1 GW floating solar plant is 
currently being assembled by the South Korean   government near the Saemangeum tidal 
flats, on the coast of the Yellow Sea. Many times larger than its closest rival, the 
Korean solar project will cost more than half   a billion dollars and come attached to 
a new startup cluster that, it’s hoped,   will spur on the next generation of 
big-thinking green energy initiatives.

It can only be hoped that, like the Chinese 
project, this and other bold initiatives   will balance futuristic energy needs with the 
economic and agricultural needs of local people. And if they manage to get it right,   it’ll send a very powerful signal 
that floating solar is the future. What do you think? Is floating 
solar an idea so obvious that   mankind would be foolish not to give 
it a go? Let us know in the comments,   and don’t forget to subscribe for 
more thoroughly buoyant tech content..

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