Vast swaths of sparsely populated areas across the U.S. and many other countries are dedicated to collecting solar energy. These panels are far more efficient and effective than in years gone by, but there just aren’t enough of them to really put a dent in the global need for energy.
Nevertheless, proponents of solar power are always looking for ways to replace fossil fuel with the practically infinite source of energy that comes from our sun — and floating panels might just be the biggest step yet in achieving that goal.
Local water for local needs
The key behind the success of these floating panels — called floatovoltaics — is that communities would be able to install them in nearby water reservoirs, thereby collecting enough energy to meet local demands. Well, that’s the hypothesis, at least.
So far, there aren’t many floatovoltaics in operation and, as of 2020, they hadn’t even produced 1% as much power as land-based solar panels. That isn’t stopping advocates from pushing for more investment around the world, though.
A promising new study
Researchers behind a new report published in the Nature Sustainability journal say that the theoretical output of floating solar panels is enough to power 6,256 cities in 124 nations just by covering roughly 30% of the water surface in local reservoirs.
Aside from simply producing a massive amount of energy, there are other possible benefits to investing in floatovoltaics, including:
- Covering a portion of the water would reduce evaporation, thereby helping to preserve a precious resource and minimize the impact of droughts.
- Water is cooler than land, and since heat waves reduce a solar panel’s efficiency, floatovoltaics would be more effective at converting sunlight to power.
- Floating panels would clear up more land for agriculture, nature preserves, and other important uses.