Floating solar panels have made inroads in Japan and Brazil, among other places. Now a proposal published in Environment 360 suggests that “floatovoltaic” platforms could be deployed in depleted reservoirs in the American southwest, such as Lake Meade and Lake Powell along the Colorado River. Such stations would not only generate a great deal of Renewable Energy but would help shield those bodies of water from evaporation, a growing concern as a result of the persistent drought.

Hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water evaporate from Lake Meade and Lake Powell every year.

Covering just six percent of the surface of Lake Meade with a floating solar energy station would yield 3,400 megawatts of electrical capacity, more than the 2074 megawatts generated by Hoover Dam. Moreover, shielding a portion of reservoirs from direct sunlight would prevent a significant amount of evaporation, preserving water for the thirsty Southwest that might otherwise be lost.

Deploying photovoltaic panels above the water would allow them to operate at slightly cooler temperature than those on dry land, boosting their efficiency by about 50 percent.

Moreover, water-borne solar power stations avoid the conflicts that are developing with conservationists over the land-based variety because of claims that they impact fragile, desert ecosystems. Strange as it may seem, some environmentalists, who might be expected to support green, renewable energy are dubious about utility scale solar power generators located in remote areas. Solar power on the water does not cause the sort of environmental impacts that the land based variety does.

“Floatovoltaics” thus addresses two critical problems related to climate change. They provide abundant, carbonless solar energy to an increasingly power-hungry planet. They also help preserve water, an important consideration in a world where that commodity has become increasingly scarce. They will not replace land-based solar power, but they will supplement such sources and thus ease the pressure on the desert environment.

Look for more floating solar power generators to be built, in lakes and sheltered bays as well as reservoirs. Sea based solar power could power desalination plants, which are becoming of greater importance as a growing population put more stress on the water supply.

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