What will be the record largest floating solar PV array in the United States is now under construction in California's Sonoma County. In addition to the massive size of the solar project, (which is expected to generate 12.5 MW of electricity and power 3,000 homes,) the excitement around this venture in particular is the developer's novel use of space. While there was much desire for a large solar array in Sonoma County, engineers encountered push back on the location for the site. Much of the land in Sonoma County is used for agriculture and revered upon for its beauty, which residents and county officials did not want to mar with a an immense solar array.
Fortunately, the airspace above six wastewater ponds, (each filled with treated sewage,) was available. The owners of these ponds are leasing the water surface rights to the solar development company and will make a slim profit for doing so. Meanwhile, the solar developer will construct the floating solar arrays and sell their energy to local utility companies.
image courtesy: SolarChoice.net
Katie Valentine for Climate Progress explains more about floating solar in her article on the devleopment:
Floating solar — which typically involves installing solar panels on pontoons that rest on the surface of a body of water and is also called “floatovoltaics” — has been installed in California before. Far Niente, a Napa Valley wine producer, has a 1,000-panel floating solar installation on its winery’s irrigation pond. The array, coupled with 1,300 solar panels on the land next to the pond, provides enough yearly energy to offset the winery’s power usage. As the New York Times reported in 2011, the solar arrays are useful in other ways too: they can help prevent harmful algae growth and prevent evaporation from ponds.
Floating solar has already caught on in other parts of the world. Australia is starting construction on its first floating solar power plant this year, which will feature a solar array on a wastewater pond. France, too, is home to a large-scale floating solar array, and Japan has also begun taking floating solar seriously. Japan’s lack of space and desire to move away from nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster make it a prime spot for floating solar. It’s unsurprising, then, that the country is home to the world’s largest floating solar array.