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Floating solar panels could completely power thousands of cities

Posted 17th March 2023

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Thousands of cities around the world could power themselves entirely with solar panels floating atop water reservoirs, according to new research. It’s a relatively easy way to generate renewable energy locally while also conserving water.
Solar arrays suspended over water, or floatovoltaics, work similarly to those spread out over land. The panels sit on a raft instead of on parking lots, rooftops, or other grounded mounts. But they haven’t been deployed in many places around the world yet and only produced as much electricity as less than 1 percent of the world’s land-based solar farms in 2020. Now, a new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability shows just how much potential cities could tap into with this emerging technology.

Researchers found that 6,256 cities across 124 countries could, in theory, meet all their electricity demand from solar panels deployed on nearby water reservoirs. They would just need to cover about 30 percent of the water’s surface with floatovoltaics. The researchers analyzed 114,555 reservoirs around the world using multiple databases and then modeled potential power generation using realistic climate data.

And since all those floating arrays would block enough sunlight to reduce evaporation, the researchers also projected major water savings. Cumulatively, the panels would conserve about as much water as 300 million people might use annually (or roughly 106 cubic kilometers per year). That would be incredibly helpful as droughts made worse by climate change suck reservoirs dry.

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