Since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan has looked to solar energy to help replace its discredited nuclear industry. The problem is there isn’t much vacant land to build big solar power plants. But the island nation does have water—lots of it.
Thus solar developer Kyocera will break ground this month on the world’s largest floating solar power plant. The company, working with Century Tokyo Leasing and French solar systems maker Ciel et Terre, plans to cover two ponds in Hyogo Prefecture with around 11,000 photovoltaic modules. Together, the two floating power stations will generate 2.9 megawatts of electricity—enough to power about 920 homes.
That’s just the start.
Kyocera plans to bring 30 floating solar power plants online by March 2015 to produce 60 megawatts of electricity.
“Due to the rapid implementation of solar power, securing tracts of land suitable for utility-scale solar power plants is becoming more difficult in Japan,” Kyocera said in a statement.
The company will put solar panels like those found on residential rooftops on floating platforms made of recyclable polyethylene. The floating power plants generate more electricity than terrestrial solar stations because the water cools the solar panels, making them more efficient.
Another bonus: The solar panels provide shade that slows the rate of evaporation on reservoirs and inhibits the growth of algae.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s nuclear industry, which supplied a third of the country’s electricity. As the government shuttered the nation’s nuclear power plants, it offered subsidies for renewable energy, which unleashed a solar building boom.
For instance, Kyocera last year built a 70-megawatt solar power plant on land in southern Japan. That plant—covering 313 acres—generates enough electricity to keep the lights on in 22,000 homes.
Ciel et Terre developed its floating power plants in the south of France, where solar panels deployed on water have been generating electricity since 2011.
In California, small floating power plants have been installed on irrigation ponds in Napa Valley to avoid taking up high-priced wine-country land that can be more profitably used to grow grapes.