FPVs offer RE project developers distinct operational and environmental benefits that, in combination, make them commercially viable.For one thing,FPVs present a range of deployment options compared with traditional land-based solar systems. Floating panels can be set up on lakes, basins, water treatment plants, drinking water reservoirs, dam reservoirs, estuarine tidal flats, or even nearshore along a coast.11 Pilot projects have shown that they can be deployed on fish farms as well, with no impact on the welfare of the fish.12
Hydropower developers and operators could also stand to gain much from FPVs. Several countries in Asia/Pacific and Europe are planning to install 100 MWp+ FPVs systems on hydropower dams to enhance hydro energy generation by reducing water loss due to evaporation.13 Installing FPVs on a dam’s reservoir requires less effort than implementing land-based solar PV, as the hydropower plant is already connected to the grid and the substation and infrastructure are also available. A hybrid hydro and solar power system can also enable overall energy output to be managed better across seasons.14 And some hydropower plants are looking at tapping into FPV to address peak demand—by, for example, using pumped storage hydropower to store excess solar output.15
FPVs could also be an option for residential and small-scale users with energy requirements in the range of 5–20 kilowatts peak, as long as they are located near a water body. Even though rooftop solar panels are far easier to install, as it only involves putting a panel on top of the roof, floating panels overcome the limitations dictated by a roof’s angle, which can affect energy capture and yield.16 Moreover, FPVs on a nearby lake or reservoir could generate enough energy to power nearby residential and small-scale commercial units on a broader scale, and with greater ease than putting panels on every single building.
Of course, FPV also poses risks and uncertainties. Few technicians would likely be familiar with FPVs’ operations and maintenance procedures, making their upkeep challenging; the long-term environmental impact is unknown; weather-related challenges to floating panels are of concern (e.g., strong winds in Northern Europe); and regulations and permitting for FPV projects are often complex to navigate.
For the FPV market to become self-sustaining in the longer term, FPV producers and operators likely need to experience an overall increase in demand. RE power purchase agreements (PPAs), which lock in capacity through multiyear agreements, continue to be critical in securing financing and generating revenue streams. As is the case with land-based solar PV, buyers of FPV projects will also likely be exposed to risks such as weather fluctuations and the financial and cost implications of multiyear PPAs.
Due to these factors, coupled with the fact that FPV technology is still nascent, energy producers might view FPV projects as riskier than implementing more-established, conventional RE technologies. Nonetheless, a particular FPV project’s operational, environmental, and technological benefits could still outweigh the risks enough to make the project attractive to the financiers and banks that would fund it.