The Impacts of Floating Solar Panel Farms in Australia

What is Floating Solar?

Floating solar is a solar system installed on a body of water, which produces the same benefits as traditional solar without being limited by land size and conditions. The purpose of floating solar panels, otherwise known as ‘floatovoltaics’, is to save land space while powering local towns or small cities, increasing renewable energy usage and electricity savings.

floating-solar-farm-lismore

Installing Floating Solar Panels in Australia

Australia’s largest 100kW floating solar farm and 100kW rooftop solar farm was installed in late 2017 in a small city in Northern Rivers, NSW, Lismore. The floating solar is now generating electricity for East Lismore’s Sewage Treatment Plant on the surface of an ‘overflow pond’. The decision was made to invest in floating solar due to lacking suitable land. With Lismore being more susceptible to floodwaters and damage, it was important to implement tactics to combat floods. Chief project officer Geoff Fussell said that the 280 floating panels will be protected by floods of up to 12 metres, with continuous maintenance happening on the panels to keep them clean.

In 2017, the goal set by Lismore City Council was to expand the solar farm, to generate 100 per cent of the Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant’s energy needs by 2023, rather than the 12 per cent initially being produced. Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith said that the decision is historic for Lismore and represents the community and the importance of implementing renewable energy solutions. Local National Party MP, Ben Franklin, similarly agreed that Lismore is heading in the right direction by investing in sustainable energy. The solar farm operates at cooler temperatures than other solar farms and has remote, reliable power access. It is said to be cost-effective, provides a decentralised power supply and has improved efficiency. 

Uncertainties of Floating Solar Panels

The benefit of floating solar PV in Australia is first that it minimises wasted property or land. In doing so, this reduces construction, deforestation and protects farmlands. As mentioned, the water assists in cooling the solar system, allowing further energy generation, increasing the cooling capacity. According to some, floating solar farms have the potential to prevent climate change through the cooling of the water, although, not all agree. 

As floating solar farms are relatively new, there are some uncertainties related to long term environmental impact, according to a study published in June 2021. Floating solar farms have the potential to create higher maintenance costs, have unfavourable effects from water and could potentially disturb the food chain of the ecosystems in the chosen body of water for the installation. With the technology becoming more familiar, the benefits and drawbacks will become accessible in due time and may require changes to the implementation of floating solar panels

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