Floating solar panel technology had a breakout year in 2019. “We’ve now … truly shifted from seeing a handful of ‘novel’ early mover projects garner attention, to watching a clutch of large systems jostling for the claim of being the world’s largest,” contributor John Parnell, head of content at Solar Media, wrote in a Forbes article last year.
Interest in the technology grew fast enough to merit the creation of the first Floating Solar Conference, which took place Sept. 19 at the Taets Art and Event Park in Amsterdam.
The tech is exactly what it sounds like: solar panels mounted on structures that float on a body of water, an attractive alternative to traditional solar systems because they don’t take up valuable acreage and the water has a cooling effect — solar panels don’t work as well in extreme heat.
Land and Sea
Solarplaza, a Rotterdam-based knowledge and networking platform that has covered sustainable energy in white papers, webinars, and conferences since its inception in 2004, began to notice interest in floating solar bubbling up in 2018.
Up until then, “most of the activity in floating solar was limited to Asia, mostly Japan,” said Thomas Boersma, Solarplaza’s project manager, finance and innovation. But that year, projects started popping up in Europe, too. At the time, Solarplaza was creating small events in Rotterdam, called Future Grid Labs, that attracted between 30-50 attendees. The floating solar lab sold out at 100 attendees, Boersma said,, “even attracting attendees outside of Europe for just a half-day program.”
Wave of Interest
The time seemed ripe for the first global conference exploring the technology. Solarplaza launched Floating Solar Conference, themed “Anchor Your Knowledge,” last year with 350 project developers, manufacturers, financiers, installers, and consultants in attendance. The program’s speaker lineup was selected “to cover the topics that raise the most questions in the market,” Boersma said, such as bankability, environmental impact, data on performance, and system design. Sessions included “Synergies with Agriculture,” “Cleaning Floating Solar Panels,” and “Dealing with Higher Waves.”
This year’s edition, taking place Sept. 17, is in the works and Boersma is eyeing the horizon. Growing trust in the technology “and the sometimes favorable conditions over ground-mounted solar in certain areas,” he said, “will trigger spectacular growth in the next five years.”
Casey Gale is an associate editor at Convene.