Texas is experiencing tremendous growth, which puts pressure on resources including water and electricity supplies. Texas leads the nation in renewable energy production and is experiencing tremendous growth in the solar energy sector, with the Solar Energy Industries Association reporting that Texas is on track to become the fastest growing utility-scale solar market in the United States within the next 5 years.
In this market, a new photovoltaic (PV) technology, floating solar, is gaining attention. Floating solar PV systems use the same types of PV panels as land-based systems, but the panels are either floating in the water (tethered to the land or substrate) or are suspended over a water body. Floating solar panels typically produce more energy than similarly-sized terrestrial systems (because of the cooling effect and reflectivity of the water).
The shading provided by the solar panels can also significantly reduce evaporation and can improve water quality by inhibiting the growth of some types of algae and inhibiting bromide converting to bromate. In a climate where much of the state is arid or semi-arid and the entire state is subject to drought, a technology such as floating solar can be part of the solution. Texas reservoirs, water and wastewater treatment facilities, power plant cooling ponds, and irrigation ponds all have the opportunity to realize multiple benefits from floating solar that could not be achieved with a standard ground-mounted PV installation.
“Floating solar can also help places in Texas with persistent blue-green algae. Blue-green algae can cause taste and odor problems and produce toxins that are poisonous to fish and wildlife. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Fish kills have occurred in private stock ponds as a result of blue-green algal blooms and there have been a few reports of livestock dying from drinking water contaminated with blue-green toxins” (TPWD 2016). Blue-green algae can also compromise human health through both external exposure and ingestion (UNL 2019). Solar-powered floating mixing systems such as those used on Lake Houston might be helpful for these water bodies with persistent blue-green algae, blocking the sunlight that hits the water and the reducing the photosynthesis process to produce less algae (Sharma et al. 2015).”Texas Water Journal, Volume 10, Number 1
To read more, click here to download Floating Solar: An Emerging Opportunity at the Energy-Water Nexus by By Carlos Gamarra and Jennifer J. Ronk