We recently came across a story about the world’s largest floating solar power plant to date being turned on in China. Despite the article being repeated by many news agencies we found it very difficult to figure out the exact location of the solar plant. Eventually we found this drone footage showing the power plant and we were able to positively identify the location in Google Earth. A few solar panels from the plant were captured at the edge of an image from November, 2016. Strangely enough, we then found this drone footage claiming to be of the same solar plant, but it is clearly a different location. We managed to identify its location too. It is a bit older and can be clearly seen in a November, 2016 image:
Floating solar power plant in the same region as the new record holder.
Nearby, we found a solar plant under construction that looks like it will be partially over the water but anchored to the ground rather than floating.
Solar plant under construction. There are also arrays of stakes off the edge of the above image, so it will be quite a large solar plant.
There were many coal mines in the region and the area has suffered subsidence as a result of the mining, which created new lakes. The new record-holding floating solar plant is on one of those lakes, so it serves as a symbol of transformation from coal to renewables.
This village was partially flooded due to subsidence. It appears that houses remaining on dry land were demolished.
Another village flooded as a result of subsidence.
We also found a lot of other solar plants in the region built over water, such as this one along a river:
Putting solar panels over water has a number of advantages vs dry land:
- Solar panels become less efficient as they heat up. The water helps to cool the panels, which increases their efficiency.
- When used on reservoirs, they reduce evaporation, saving valuable water.
- In regions where land is in short supply, such as Japan, it avoids wasting valuable space.
Almost all the solar plants we found had the panels aligned east to west, tilted towards the south, to catch the most sun. But one interesting idea we came across was an experimental floating solar plant in South Korea that rotates, significantly increasing efficiency:
Rotating solar power plant in South Korea. See on YouTube
It is presumably cheaper to rotate a whole floating solar plant than land based systems that rotate individual panels to track the sun. The rotation observable in the Google Earth imagery is not very much, but that is likely a consequence of the fact that most imaging satellites have orbits arranged so that they take pictures around mid-day, so we do not see the early morning and late afternoon positions.
We came across this article discussing the advantages of floating solar panels, and it mentions that solar plants built over water are often combined with fisheries. It also mentions that the Anhui region of China, where the first solar plants we looked at above are situated, is expected to get around 3.2 GW of floating solar between 2016-2018, so the world record 40 MW plant is just a small part of a much bigger scheme.
For some pictures of floating solar around the world see this website.
For the locations of the places mentioned above as well as many other floating solar plants in China, Japan, and the United Kingdom, download this KML file. We have also included a few dry land solar plants that we found nearby while looking for floating plants, and a few major solar plants in China.