October 5, 2020 Read More →

U.S. researchers see vast potential for floating solar generation at existing hydroelectric dams

S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):

Installing floating solar power plants on the reservoirs of existing hydroelectric dams represents an enormous untapped opportunity with a global technical potential of 3,039 GW to 7,593 GW, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines estimated in a recent study.

The up-to-10,600 TWh of potential annual generation at solar farms floating on hydro reservoirs is equal to nearly half of the world’s total electricity use in 2018, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, said in a Sept. 29 overview of the findings, which will be published in the December issue of the journal Renewable Energy.

“This does not represent what could be economically feasible or what the markets could actually support,” NREL researcher Nathan Lee, the report’s lead author, said in a statement. “Rather, it is an upper-bound estimate of feasible resources that considers waterbody constraints and generation system performance.”

North America possesses, by far, the largest technical potential for floating photovoltaic arrays at hydropower reservoirs, accounting for 1,785 GW of the report’s median global estimate of 5,333 GW. Potential benefits of such floating hybrid power plants include avoiding land conflicts, relying on a common substation to reduce infrastructure costs, reducing evaporation from reservoirs and storing excess midday solar production with pumped hydro storage.

Floating solar-hydropower hybrids “could play an important role in achieving the ambitious renewable energy targets put forth by many countries,” the researchers said, pointing to the need for more detailed assessments targeted at specific countries or regions.

The biggest floating solar markets today are in Asia, where a 150-MW project is operating in China and a 2,100-MW facility is planned in South Korea. In Europe, project development is picking up in areas with land constraints, such as in the Netherlands, where Vattenfall AB completed a 1.2-MW system in late September. The country also hosts a 27.4-MW floating array, Europe’s largest floating solar project, which was completed in March. Akuo Energy developed a 17-MW system at a former quarry site in France, while Lightsource BP Renewable Energy Investments Ltd. built a 6.3-MW solar project on a reservoir connected to London’s water network.

[Garrett Hering]

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