"Solar power is now the cheapest source of electricity in history, according to
a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency. But there’s something holding
this clean energy powerhouse back: space. Unlike fossil fuel power stations,
solar farms need a lot of room to generate enough electricity to keep up with
demand. Most solar farms are composed of ground-mounted panels that take up
land that could be used to grow food or provide habitat for wildlife.
Although electricity and water don’t usually mix, a growing number of floating
solar farms are being deployed worldwide. Floating solar panels on a lake or
reservoir might sound like an accident waiting to happen, but recent studies
have shown the technology generates more electricity compared with rooftop or
ground-mounted solar installations. This is thanks to the cooling effect of the
water beneath the panels, which can boost how efficiently these systems
generate electricity by as much as 12.5%.
That said, lakes and reservoirs are already very important for people and the
planet. While these freshwater bodies cover less than 1% of Earth’s surface,
they nurture almost 6% of its biodiversity and provide drinking water and crop
irrigation that’s vital to billions of people. Worryingly, climate change has
raised the surface temperatures of lakes globally by an average of 0.34°C per
decade since 1985, encouraging toxic algal blooms, lowering water levels and
preventing water mixing between the distinct layers which naturally form in
larger and deeper lakes, starving the depths of oxygen.
In the rush to decarbonise energy in order to slow global warming, might
turning to floating solar farms simply add to the strain on the world’s
precious freshwater reserves? Remarkably, in new research, we found that
carefully designed floating solar farms could actually reduce the threats posed
by climate change to lakes and reservoirs."
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*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics