Japan Is Building Huge Floating Solar Power Plants

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Video screen capture. YouTube

Japan has been working to shift more of its energy generation to renewable sources in the years since the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, aiming to double its renewable energy output by 2030. In that rush, the country has come up with some smart ways to install distributed solar power. The latest idea has been to develop floating solar power plants that cover small inland bodies of water like ponds and reservoirs.

Solar power company Kyocera has been leading the charge and just recently launched a solar power plant that floats on a reservoir and will produce about 2,680 megawatt hours per year -- enough for 820 typical households. The installation consists of almost 9,100 waterproof solar panels atop a float made of a high-density polyethylene.

Kyocera previously installed this technology in two smaller power plants over ponds earlier this year.

Why make floating solar power plants when the land-based ones do just fine? Well, there are three major benefits to marine solar tech. The first is that they don't take up any land space. In Japan where cities are dense, agricultural land is limited, and rooftop solar has really taken off, water-based solar power is another way to rack up some clean energy, without taking up extra space.

The second, and most important, is that the water helps the solar panels perform better. The water keeps the panels cool, which makes them operate more efficiently and helps them last longer.

The third benefit is to the body of water itself. When panels are placed over reservoirs, they discourage water evaporation and algae growth, both of which keep the reservoirs fuller and healthier.

Kyocera has even bigger plans for floating solar power. The company is working on a 13.4-megawatt project on the Yamakura Dam reservoir, which will be the largest floating solar installation in the world when it starts operation in March 2016.

The plant will be comprised of approximately 50,000 Kyocera modules over a water surface area of 180,000m2. It will generate about 15,635 megawatt hours (MWh) per year, the equivalent of the energy demand of 4,700 typical households.

Below is an aerial view of one of the original pond installations.