Floating solar panels take to the seas

Heliofloat solar farm is designed to generate clean energy out at sea and preserve water in arid regions.

The Vienna University of Technology (TU Wein) has developed Heliofloat, an offshore solar panel system that goes beyond generating solar energy. The solar platforms have been designed to float with innovative buoyancy units that keep the panels above water even in the roughest weather conditions. Heliofloat technology shades precious water resources from the sun and creates clean energy while acting as a platform for other objects. The research team believes that the system can be used for aqua farming, offshore housing, desalination plants and even as event locations.

The photovoltaic panels are attached to stable floating platforms made up of barrels with air pockets at the top and an open bottom that welcomes the seawater in. The open section acts as a shock absorber that keeps the platform afloat – the alternative would be a closed cushion of air, which would cause the platform to bounce off the water and destabilise. The result is a floating solar farm the size of a football field that can prop up the panels even in the roughest of seas.

Global warming has increased the rate of evaporation of our water sources, resulting in dried up dams, reservoirs, and lakes. In particularly dry regions with high water restrictions, the solar platforms can shadow sea, reservoir or dam shorelines from the sun and minimise the rate of evaporation, which is an important element of reducing water loss. The Heliofloat platforms allow sunlight to penetrate through to the water, ensuring the aquatic ecosystem is not negatively impacted by the shading.