Edge of Innovation

London’s new solar farm floats into the record books

Drive down any motorway in the UK and you’ll notice that solar arrays are springing up in fields everywhere. But installing large panels in cities can prove problematic — there just isn’t the space in urban areas. It’s why Thames Water has decided to float them instead.

Thames Water, Ennoviga Solar and Lightsource Renewable Energy are working together to build an enormous pontoon on London’s Queen Elizabeth II reservoir. The structure will feature more than 61,000 floats and 177 anchors, supporting 23,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

When complete, it will become Europe’s largest floating solar farm. The 6.3 megawatt array will power the nearby water treatment works and is expected to generate 5.8 million kilowatt hours in its first year – the equivalent energy usage of around 1,800 homes.

Kyocera floating solar farm
Kyocera-built floating solar farms are already providing clean energy to Japanese homes.

The solar panels on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir will cover around a tenth of the surface area — a space large enough to fill eight Wembley football pitches. The innovative floating pontoon is part Thames Water’s plan to generate a third of its own energy by 2020.

It’s not the first floating solar farm of its kind. Japan’s Kyocera TCL Solar completed two floating solar power plants last year in the crowded Hyogo Prefecture. It is currently working on the 13.7 megawatt Yamakura dam power plant, which will involve installing over 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels, enough to power 5,000 homes.

Elsewhere in the UK, United Utilities spent £3.5 million installing 12,000 panels on Manchester’s Godley reservoir in 2015.

Of course, it’s small potatoes compared to some of the world’s largest ground-based solar power stations. Topping the list is the Charanka Solar Park in India, a massive 600 megawatt array of 23 co-located PV plants. This is closely followed by the 579 megawatt Solar Star array and the 550 megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in the United States.

Europe’s biggest solar farm is the 300 megawatt Cestas Solar Farm, which covers a 250-hectare site near Bordeaux in France. In the UK, the 69.5 megawatt DTTC Lyneham solar farm is built on the site of the former RAF airbase. Over 160,000 solar panels are installed on the site, which are used to power the £230 million Defence College of Technical Training and 10,000 nearby homes.

With the UK government slashing renewable energy subsidies, it’s unclear whether the Thames Water project will be the first of many, or a one-off construction. But like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and the 630 megawatt London Array wind farm, there’s still a willingness to explore innovative ways of generating clean power. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

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