Those who are familiar with solar photovoltaics (PV) understand how great they can work on rooftops – while some might not be so pleased with their aesthetics, adding PV without using any land on your property is certainly appealing. So fast-forward to maxvilmar’s blog post a few weeks ago, where work by scientists on translucent solar cells hinted at the possibility of a window-mounted electricity generation. It really got me thinking – what are some of the other clever places where PV has been mounted?
As I started reading, it made me realize that I’ve already seen some of these ideas in action. Across the US, solar panel canopies are being installed in parking lots. It’s one of those win-win situations I really like seeing – canopies installed in pre-exiting wide-open spaces, providing shade for cars and electricity for the surrounding area. In some cases, the canopies can be used directly to power electric vehicles! More typically though, this technique has been employed at stadiums and company parking lots to provide electricity for adjacent buildings.
Advocates of large-scale PV are also showing interest in hybrid solar power plants. In hybrid plants, solar is coupled with another fuel source in a single power plant. The installation of PV alongside another source has the potential to solve power transmission and intermittency problems sometimes associated with PV. In hybrid installations, such as the new solar-wind plant in California, or the new solar-geothermal plant in Nevada, coupling energy sources may allow for a solution to these problems. Proponents of concentrated solar power (CSP) also see PV as a CSP-enabling technology – PV and CSP plants can work in the same way as these previously mentioned hybrid plants to overcome transmission and intermittency problems.
Another good example of the clever application of PV is evident in the solar bridge at Blackfriars station in London. The panels on the bridge will generate an estimate 900,000 kWh of electricity per year, which would supply about half of the energy demand of the station itself. To me, it’s similar to parking lot canopies – if installed correctly, we can get some added benefit by placing solar panels in a strategic locations while still reaping the benefits of harvesting the renewable energy source. Admittedly, the solar bridge concept isn’t widespread, as the construction of the Blackfriars station bridge marks the completion of the largest of two solar bridges in the world (with the other being the Kurilpa Bridge in Austrailia).
One of the other rather unique applications of photovoltaics can be found at the Far Niete winery in the Napa Valley. Although I think the nickname – Floatovoltaics – is pretty hilarious (sorry), the application is actually pretty great. SPG Solar has installed a large, floating solar array in the winery’s irrigation pond, minimizing the use of additional landspace while providing over 100 percent of the winery’s electrical needs. The installation increases the PV efficiency (since they’re cooler on the water), reduces evaporation, and slows algae growth. This article further details the benefits of the installation, and points out that several companies, including Solaris Synergy and Sunergy are following suit, by building similar installations in various countries around the world.
Actually, I’d be willing to say one of the coolest recent demonstrations of water-mounted PV that I have read about is taking place in Gujarat, India. (As I post this, it looks like a more in depth discussion on this specific project was posted here as well. The post is focused on this one project as opposed to the several projects I am discussing, and so you can probably find much more information there than this post, so check it out!) Dubbed the Canal Solar Power Project, solar panels were installed along a strip of the Normada canals. The PV panels actually serve two purposes: generating electricity for the surrounding area, and preventing water evaporation. And although the pilot project isn’t gargantuan, it has a ton of potential. I’d say it’s already paying off in big ways – the 1MW pilot project is preventing millions of liters of water from evaporating out of the canal per year. If the project is expanded along even 1/10th of the canal, it will have up to 2,200 MW of solar power generating capacity and could save several billions of litres of water per year while eliminating the need of 11,000 acres of land (which would be used up if the panels were installed on land). That’s pretty awesome.
Certainly, with PV becoming more cost competitive, it will be necessary to make a choice – find places to build upon established infrastructure, or build large-scale PV on undeveloped land. As more companies begin commercializing PV, it will probably be built in both undeveloped and developed locations, some of which we won’t expect. So it certainly leaves me wondering – what are some other unique applications where PV will be used in the near future?