EnergyFloating solar power plants offer many benefits

Published 22 May 2014

Water-based solar plants are at least 50 percent more efficient than a land-based solar power system.The water on which the plant floats helps extending the life of the photovoltaic panels, meaning greater efficiency and performance from the solar panel system, and the plant also prevents nearly 90 percent of the evaporation for the surface area that it covers, an important benefit in dry climates.

Geits Global has proposed to build a solar power plant which would float on basins at the Northern Areas Council waste treatment plant in South Australia. Executive vice president of projects at Geits, Felicia Whiting, says the water-based solar plant would be at least 50 percent more efficient than a land-based solar power system. “It’s very much like a traditional solar array with the exception that it’s designed to float on the water,” she said.

According to the ABC News, the massive amount of water cools the solar panels, and an additional cooling system uses the body of water to keep the panels at a constant temperature. Extending the life of the photovoltaic panels means greater efficiency and performance from the solar panel system.

In terms of design, the floating plant is similar to a land-based plant. “The system is designed from a HDP (high-density polyethylene) pipe, which is the buoyancy, and it has a structural steel pontoon sitting abreast that and then the PV (photovoltaic) panels slot into the structural system,” Whiting said. She compares the design to a racking system with buoyancy.

Having the wastewater basin covered by a floating solar power plant brings other benefits. “We’re at about 90 percent water evaporation prevention for the surface area that we cover,” she said. “In a dry climate like South Australia, that’s about 2.5 meters of water evaporation depth annually that you’re saving. It’s a world-first for putting a system of this nature on a treated wastewater plant basin.”

Geiz has other floating plants in France, Italy, and South Korea, but the technology proposed for South Australia is specific to the wastewater treatment plant. The company is also looking to adapt the concept for reservoirs, dams, and other irrigation systems. The solar plant across three basins is expected to power the waste treatment plant, support timber millings, and possibly produce excess supply to power the nearby Jamestown community.

The project is a partnership with the local government association. “There is a water quality and water security problem in Northern Areas Council and Jamestown, Whiting said. “We’ve been working with the council to integrate a system with the water treatment plant operations.”

For now, Geits has applied for an electricity generation permit from the Essential Services Commission and hopes to begin construction later this year. “Because it’s a prefabricated system we’re looking at a commissioning date of around September, October,” Whiting said.