REC Group has successfully completed tests to confirm that REC solar panels can be deployed in floating solar installations to the same exacting standards of reliability, performance and quality as on rooftops or in ground-mounted installations. Since the company has extended its product and performance guarantees to include floating solar installations, investors and users can rely on REC panels’ long-term reliability and optimized energy output for these innovative projects under way in several parts of the United States, Mexico, and other countries.
The costs of solar technology have dropped by more than 50% over the past six years and continue to shrinkwith solar energy reaching grid parity in more and more regions around the world. Analysts predict that solar will be the world’s most common energy source by 2050, with generation costs reaching ~2 cents per kilowatt-hour. The total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic is expected to increase to 4,600 gigawatts (GW) by 2050, up from ~150 GW today.
But in some regions, the greatest barrier to accelerated solar growth might be the amount of available acreage. No matter how much sunshine they enjoy, countries and regions where space is at a premium, such as the U.S. East Coast, Japan, U.K., and Hong Kong, are seeking alternative deployment strategies such as floating solar installations.
Putting solar on fresh water makes sense
With projects sized from a few kilowatts to several megawatts and more, floating solar installations have the potential to power thousands of households, and enable underused bodies of water to become solar-friendly real estate. A wide range of sites are suitable, including wastewater ponds at water treatment facilities and chemical plants, irrigation storage ponds at farms or vineyards, quarry lakes, and large storage reservoirs behind dams. A growing number of such installations have been built or are in various stages of development, including projects in California, Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, Mexico, Brazil, France, Japan, and Australia.
Heavy power users such as water treatment facilities, for example, could save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by using electricity generated by a floating solar installation. Since lease payments for underutilized bodies of water are likely to be lower than land lease payments, a floating installation could be even more competitive compared to other energy sources. Owners of these “liquid assets” could benefit from modest revenue streams by leasing their water surface.
The benefits of floating solar installations go beyond the obvious economic advantages of distributed onsite power generation. In drought-impacted, energy-hungry areas such as California, the sun-blocking shade provided by such systems can significantly reduce water evaporation. The shading effect also hinders photosynthesis in the water and therefore results in less algae growth on the ponds themselves.
Arndt Lutz, senior vice president of REC Group and managing director of its North American business, is confident that REC’s high-performance solar panels will help pioneer this new direction. “For many investors, solar installations on water surfaces are uncharted territory, and there are very few projects worldwide to serve as benchmarks. We are delighted to extend REC’s product and performance guarantees to floating applications in North America. This gives U.S. and other regional investors and users greater investment security, while also delivering substantial ecological benefits.”
REC assured quality for floating installations
Floating PV systems experience different dynamic stresses compared to those encountered by standard ground-mounted installations. REC has performed rigorous component and panel evaluations in real and simulated floating conditions, including component salt spray, panel vibration, immersion and UV exposure tests.
The installation is relatively easy to implement, since the floatation structure can be assembled without heavy equipment. As an initial example, REC solar panels have been proven to be safe for installations on specially designed Hydrelio floating pontoons manufactured by the French company Ciel et Terre, with a water salinity not exceeding 25 mS/cm at 25°C (15 PSU).