Photo via Kyocera Corporation

The applications for solar panels seem endless. In fact, they’re now moving on to unknown land… Well, it’s not really land at all – it’s water.

Clean energy companies are looking to wetlands, lakes, ponds, and canals as building grounds as the location of their new solar panels. So far, floating solar structures have been planned for the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Italy.

But it’s in Japan’s Yamakura Dam that the biggest floating plant, in terms of how much it output it can produce, will soon be placed atop the reservoir of Japan’s in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo.

Solar Panels on the Water

The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2016. It will cover 180,000 square meters, hold 50,000 photovoltaic solar panels, and power nearly 5,000 households. Interestingly, the project will also offset nearly 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – the same amount as 1,700 car emissions.

The Yamakura Dam project is a collaboration between 3 companies: Kyocera, a Kyoto-based electronics manufacturer; Ciel et Terre, a French company that designs, finances, and operates photovoltaic installations; and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation.

So why are we building on water, instead of land? Building on water helps to free up surrounding land agricultural use, conservation, or other development.

Environmental Impact

Yet here are concerns over the project. You can’t simply place a solar panel in any ol’ lake or reservoir.

Yang Yang, a engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles specializing in photovoltaic solar panels, says of the project: “Overall, this is a very interesting idea. If successful, it will bring a huge impact. However, I do have concerns of its safety against storms and other natural disasters, not to mention corrosion.”

Solar energy plants on the water are clearly more susceptible to changes in weather, but moreover they have to be thoroughly waterproofed, including all panels and wiring.

It’s not just bad weather, but natural disasters that have to be taken into consideration as Japan is a hot spot for typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, and tidal waves. To make sure that the platforms stay intact, Ciel et Terre’s R&D team tested them in a wind tunnel that matched the same conditions of a hurricane.

Also, the panels have to adhere to certain environmental regulations.

“That is one reason we chose Ciel et Terre’s floating platforms, which are 100 percent recyclable and made of high-density polyethylene that can withstand ultraviolet rays and corrosion,” says Ichiro Ikeda, general manager of Kyocera’s marketing division.

The project also impacts the water’s environment as the sun that the algae soak up is taken in through the panels, making the water cooler and darker, which can sometimes often halt algae growth – which can be both a good and a bad thing.

With 70% of the earth’s surface covered in water, this could present companies with a whole new terrain with which to work on. However, the ocean is still a distant dream, with Kyocera’s Ikeda explaining that there are a variety of issues at play, such as waves and changing water levels that could damage the panels.

  • Korea has also built the floating solar plant.