What happens when a country wants to boost their generation of solar power, but doesn't have enough land for the number of panels needed? Well, the Japanese, among a few others, have been developing a novel solution: float them on large reservoirs. This week saw the country begin construction of the largest floating solar farm in the world, in which panels will eventually cover two million square feet, and with an aim of producing enough electricity to power 5,000 local homes.
The Japanese electronics multinational Kyocera has begun work on what it says will be the world’s biggest floating solar farm. The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba prefecture and is anticipated to supply enough electricity for nearly 5,000 households when it is completed in early 2018.
Space-starved Japan has already seen several floating solar farms built as part of the country’s drive to exploit more renewable energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The shutdown of nuclear plants has seen Japan increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports that have hit its emissions-cutting ambitions.
The Yamakura dam power plant will see more than 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels cover a 180,000 m sq area, but compared to other land-based plants it is relatively small. At 13.7MW when finished, it would not make the top 100 of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic farms.
In the UK, water company United Utilities started work last year on a floating solar farm on a Greater Manchester reservoir, which will be Europe’s largest once complete. Kyocera said it was turning to water because of a scarcity of land for utility-scale solar in Japan.
Ray Noble, a solar adviser at the UK-based Renewable Energy Association, said that the technology was relatively straightforward but the only reason to build floating farms would be if land was very tight.
The main challenge was to keep wiring away from the water and put the inverters - which convert the electricity generated into a usable form - on floating structures. But he added: “If anything goes wrong, I’ve always said electricity and water don’t mix.”
Kyocera has already built three floating solar farms, which are much smaller than the new one, which was first announced in October 2014.