A gleaming circular island floats in a Dutch lake, covered in dozens of gleaming solar panels. But this is no ordinary solar array, nor is it one of the many new floating solar farms being installed around the world in lakes, reservoirs, and coastal areas.
That’s because its panels do something that none of the other floating solar farms can: they meticulously track and follow the Sun as it moves across the sky, catching as many rays as possible.
This gleaming installation, named Proteus after the ancient Greek sea god, is among the first to combine floating solar panels with Sun-tracking technology in order to maximize the amount of clean electricity it can generate.
The island, which floats in the Oostvoornse Meer, a lake in the south-west Netherlands, is covered in 180 of these moving solar panels, totaling 73 kilowatts of peak power installed (kWp).
It’s a small amount in a world trying to transition to renewable energy, but SolarisFloat, the Portuguese company that built Proteus, believes it can be scaled up to generate large amounts of clean electricity – and, crucially, without taking up valuable land.
Floating solar panels are becoming increasingly popular all over the world, from the Brazilian Amazon to Japan. Floating solar capacity has increased dramatically over the last decade, from 70 MWp in 2015 to 1,300MWp in 2020.
Over the next decade, the market for the technology is expected to grow at a 43% annual rate, reaching $24.5 billion (£21.7 billion) by 2031.
“Floating solar is a rather new [renewable energy] option, but it has huge potential globally,” says Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris).
According to a Seris analysis, covering just 10% of all man-made reservoirs in the world with floating solar would result in an installed capacity of 20 Terawatts (TW) – 20 times more than the global solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity today.
Floating solar technology is one of the most recent trends in the revolutionary growth of solar PV electricity in recent years.
Global solar PV capacity has nearly doubled in the last decade, rising from 72GW in 2011 to 843GW in 2021. The technology now generates 3.6% of global electricity, up from 0.03% in 2006.
Simultaneously, solar arrays have seen an incredible price drop, making them the world’s cheapest source of power.
Further expansions in solar energy are expected; in fact, the International Energy Agency estimates that capacity must reach six times its current level by 2030 in order to achieve a net zero-emissions world.
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