Floatovoltaics are a cool way to super-charge your solar panels with water

Last summer, I worked with IBM and the Weather Channel on some climate- and energy-related content for their Forecast Change campaign. I just learned that the project apparently won a Digiday Content Marketing Award for the best branded content site of the year, which is pretty cool (or at least, my mom might think so).

But I wanted to share one of the pieces I wrote, because the concept was new to me before working on it, and it's now stuck with me ever since; I even found a way to work in as a plot point for playwriting commission I did on climate change. It has to do with floatovoltaic energy — essentially, floating solar panels on (or submerging them in!) bodies of water, to make them more efficient and save water. As I wrote then for Weather.com:

"It's like putting a plastic sheet over the whole lake, or the whole tailings pond," explains Joshua Pearce, a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. Pearce has worked extensively in the emerging field of floatovoltaic technology (FVT), or the overlap of solar energy systems and water use. He says that the presence of solar panels over a body of water can provide enough shade to consistently reduce evaporation by 70-80%.


A solar module can easily increase its energy output by five percent just by floating on top of a body of water, even if the panels themselves don't actually touch the surface. The panels at Las Tórtolas are positioned several inches above the water itself resting on floating pontoons, but even that close proximity still results in an additional 3,000 kWh of electricity annually; a fully submerged solar panel can be even more efficient.

Floatovoltaic technology isn't new, per se, but it still hasn't caught on en masse (though, I suppose, one could argue, neither has solar energy). After learning about a copper mine in Chile that installed floatovoltaics on its tailing pond, and speaking with scientists and mining executives alike, I was genuinely shocked at what a seemingly-obvious win-win scenario this was. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of annoying infrastructural hurdles to get people to jump over before they adapt to this objectively better energy production; of course, standard solar energy suffers from the exact same. (Floatovoltaics are also great for agrovoltaics — that is to say, to grow crops or harvest shellfish and other seafoods under the panels — but I only barely just got to touch on that in the article.)

If you're interested in learning more about floatovoltaics — and joining me in being frustrated that we haven't been faster at adapting these kinds of sustainable energy production technologies — me and the Weather Channel got you covered.

Floating Solar Panels Are Helping This Mining Company Save Water [Thom Dunn / The Weather Channel]

Image via YouTube