A bright and buoyant market

As the market moves beyond niche applications floating solar is opening up new opportunities, writes Bernard Prouvost at Ciel & Terre

Solar Panel

A relatively new industry, floating solar photovoltaic systems will soon play an important role in the global clean energy production marketplace. In recent years, floating solar has grown rapidly, from 10MW of global installed capacity in 2014 to almost 1.2GW today. And with the installation of larger scale facilities gaining momentum worldwide, the World Bank estimates the global potential of floating solar, even under conservative assumptions, to be 400GW.

Buoyant market in Asia

Asia is the epicentre for this new technology’s expansion. An attractive option for power-hungry countries with weak grids, high population density and competing uses for available land, floating solar is taking off in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

While Japan is the world leader in floating photovoltaic installations, with more than 60 projects built since its first in 2007, China is home to the world’s largest floating solar power plant. Built for China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group, the solar park, located at a flooded former coal mine in the northern part of Anhui province, uses innovative Ciel & Terre Hydrelio technology. The 70MW solar array, which became operational this year, is home to 194,000 solar modules and can power almost 21,000 homes. China is set to break another record when the 150MW floating solar power station by Three Gorges New Energy firm is completed.

Global revolution

Supported by ambitious government programmes and attractive feed-in-tariff schemes, floating solar is now installed in more than 25 countries and is becoming more competitive thanks to the plummeting cost of floating systems, allowing many large-size projects to flourish.

India is expected to take the lead in making floating solar a multi-gigawatt-size market. With a very high population density, a number of a large reservoirs and strong political commitment, several central and local government tenders have already awarded more than 1GW to be built before the end of 2020.

In the US, East Coast states including California have shown great interest, with several arrays planned for 2019. The US floating solar panel market size is anticipated to be more than US$250m by 2024, and favourable federal government initiatives to encourage the deployment of clean energy technologies will only further complement the industry outlook.

Europe is also on the move, with the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal entering the market. France will have its first floating solar power plant in 2019, while the UK’s floating solar panel market looks set to witness strong growth of more than 60% in terms of volume by 2024. The introduction of regulations to limit CO2 emissions will further boost growth. 

Drivers for future growth

The floating solar market will dramatically grow in the coming years. This increase will be driven by:

  • Grid parity
  • Growing scarcity of land in many countries
  • Growing constraints for grid connection in remote regions
  • Environmental issues about using land
  • Evaporation concerns in many reservoirs in hot countries
  • New opportunities of large ‘near shore’ projects on salty waters in well protected bays

A new industry

Floating solar is expected to top 1.5GW in 2019. Technological advancement coupled with declining solar component costs will create major new opportunities to scale-up solar energy around the world, with floating solar achieving 5% of the global solar market in 2023 – a volume of 6–8GW per year.

Availability of limited land space for the deployment of new solar systems will significantly drive the floating solar market across the globe, while feed-in-tariff schemes by several countries will further enhance the industry landscape.

By Bernard Prouvost, Founder and Chairman, Ciel & Terre