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Nithin Coca headshot

World's Largest Floating Solar Test Bed Comes Online in Singapore

By Nithin Coca

A new floating solar photovoltaic system in Singapore is just one hectare in size and is meant as a prototype. But it could help usher in a new wave of PV placements on water resources globally.

Floating PVs are not new, but they've never been analyzed fully and, thus, only exist on a small scale in a few scattered places. This project aims to understand the true economic and energy impact of such systems, and how they can operate on far larger, and potentially more efficient, scales.

Singapore is an ideal location for this study due to its unique position. It's a developed, small island nation in Southeast Asia with high land costs. These elevated costs make placing large-scale solar plants, such as the massive installation in Morocco or even the large projects in the deserts of the western United States, unfeasible.

This is why the country is making large strides in its own quest for sustainability. Part of that is necessity – they have no fossil fuel energy sources to speak of. But a big part of it is vision, as Singapore aims to be a model for green innovations across Asia and, eventually, the world.

“We have identified floating solar capabilities as a key focus for us," said Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of cleantech and cities, infrastructure, and industrial solutions at the Singapore Economic Development Board, in a press statement. "It’s about grooming our local companies; it’s about attracting international companies to come here to co-innovate with us.”

The project is now testing different models for floating PV to see which are the most efficient and which are scalable. Ideally, the results could be shared and result in new, efficient siting of solar panels across the world. For Singapore, this means potentially siting floating PVs on its reservoirs, which would not only produce clean energy, but may also reduce evaporation and make the reservoirs more water efficient.

“The results of the environmental studies will allow us to make more informed decisions on how some of our reservoirs can support floating solar PV systems in future, after taking into account the economic viability of these systems,” said Tan Nguan Sen, chief sustainability officer for Singapore’s national water agency, in a press statement.

Here in California, where we are dealing with a massive, multi-year drought, the thought of lining our reservoirs -- and perhaps the California Aqueduct -- with floating solar PVs is appealing. Let's hope California's policymakers, and our burgeoning solar sector, are paying attention to the results of this experiment in Singapore.

Image credit: Merlion (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

Read more stories by Nithin Coca