Solar panels need to be deployed over vast areas worldwide to decarbonize electricity. By 2050, the United States might need up to 61,000 square kilometres of solar panels — an area larger than the Netherlands1. Land-scarce nations such as Japan and South Korea might have to devote 5% of their land to solar farms2.
The question of where to put these panels isn’t trivial. There is fierce competition for land that is also needed for food production and biodiversity conservation. One emerging solution is to deploy floating solar panels (‘floatovoltaics’) on reservoirs.
The idea of floatovoltaics holds much promise, and there has been a rapid rise in installation and investments. But there are still many unknowns about the technology’s environmental impacts, along with its social, technical and economic dimensions.
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