Floating solar power, also called floating solar technology or panels as well as ‘floatovoltaics’, is taking off in Africa. Currently, six countries are taking the lead in adoption of the renewable energy technology on the continent.
Innovative clean energy solutions are more important than they’ve ever been as the globe fights to reduce carbon emissions to achieve the goal of net zero by decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.
With a massive capacity for energy production, this affordable technology could be revolutionary for the planet.
It could also be hugely helpful for Africa in terms of lessening the pressure it is under to meet carbon-reduction goals set by countries overseas. (This pressure has been criticised by Africa as Western hypocrisy due to the fact Western nations have far bigger carbon footprints, while many Africans don’t even have access to electricity. Nevertheless, this technology is a great opportunity for Africa in terms of the possibilities for its carbon reduction.)
What is floating solar power and how does it work?
Floating solar power refers to photovoltaic panel installations placed on pontoons over large water bodies such as reservoirs where they float on the water.
The technology works best situated on reservoirs, quarry lakes, and irrigation canals as these are unshaded and stable water surfaces, allowing for optimal sunlight exposure and solar energy absorption.
As an energy option, floating solar technology is cheap, sustainable, and hugely productive in terms of power generation. A study has found that covering reservoirs with floating solar panels could generate three times more electricity than the entire EU produces at present.
Why African countries are adopting it – the benefits of floating solar power
Like the rest of the world, Africa is aware of the many potential benefits of floating solar, and some countries are making strides in adopting the technology.
Advantages of floating solar panels
The benefits include:
- High energy generation
- They are a source of clean energy which help to lower the planet’s carbon emissions from power production
- Solar panels stay clean and free of dirt for longer due to being on water instead of land
- Being on the water keeps PV panels cooler, increasing the efficiency of sun energy absorption
- As the water is covered by solar panels, there will be less evaporation, which is even more beneficial if the water body is a source of drinking water, or if there is water scarcity in the area
- Using water is cheaper than renting or buying pieces of land to install solar panels on
- The technology can complement hydropower plants’ energy production
Disadvantages of solar power
There is one major drawback to solar panel facilities: they take up a lot of space. Between around 0.5% to 5% of a country’s land area, to be exact, should the country want to achieve net zero emissions. This is according to a study done in 2021.
The world’s largest floating solar farm, the Dezhou Dingzhuang Floating Solar Farm in China, covers around 600 hectares.
Solar energy installations require around 70 times as much land space as natural gas plants per unit of energy.
This can result in disputes over land between planners and people such as nature conservationists, local authorities, and farm owners.
African countries leading the way in floating solar power
A few countries on the continent are partnering with IPPs (Independent Power Producers) and private investors to develop floating solar projects.
Seychelles plans to build the globe’s biggest salt-water floating solar plant, starting in Q4 of 2023. The development will help the island nation reach its goal of 15% of its electricity coming from green energy sources by the year 2030.
The country generates a high solar energy supply of 179 Watts per capita (according to the report ‘Annual Solar Outlook 2023’). This is, however, helped by the fact that only 100,000 people reside on the island.
Along with Tunisia, Morocco leads the way in North Africa’s floating solar power industry. In 2021, the country launched an installation of 800 floating solar units.
Tunisia began a PV pilot project in 2022 and has future projects in the pipeline. Floating solar power will be especially valuable in Tunisia, where high levels of water evaporation from soil and water bodies often lead to a lot of water loss in the country.
Heading up West Africa is Ghana, which has announced the development of a 4-Megawatt floating solar plant on its Bui Reservoir.
The planning and development of a 2-Megawatt solar plant on the Tamarind Falls Reservoir in Mauritius will soon begin as a bid window has been closed that called for project managers to carry out the development.
6. South Africa
South Africa is calling for IPPs to develop, buy, and run clean power plants in 19 sites across the country, and included floating solar power projects among the types of power generation plants it wants to see being developed.
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