What’s the Latest Wastewater Treatment Facility Solar Trend? Floatovoltaics

America’s wastewater treatment facilities are converting to solar power in a big way. In addition to achieving significant environmental benefits, facilities that generate their own electricity from renewable solar can significantly reduce their energy costs, stabilizing rates for customers while preserving money for other projects. Proactive operators, both municipal and privately owned, see the benefits and are making the move.

But wait, there’s more!

There’s a new approach to solar installations for wastewater treatment facilities that can solve a host of other issues and reduce costs even further. It’s called Floatovoltaics and involves installing floating solar arrays on retention ponds instead of, or in addition to, ground-mounted solar arrays.

The concept of floatovoltaics originated with a winery in Napa Valley, California in 2009. The Far Niente Winery wanted to convert to solar energy, but avoid using prime acreage dedicated to growing grapes for ground-mounted solar arrays. The solution was to install floating solar arrays on an irrigation pond. In addition to saving ground for grapes, the floating solar arrays would slow water evaporation and algae growth.

Fast forward to 2020 and the idea of floatovoltaics is catching on with wastewater treatment facilities that also have large amounts of acreage dedicated to retention ponds, issues with algae and evaporation, and significant energy costs as well as headaches associated with algae control. A facility in Sayreville, New Jersey, recently installed a 4.4-MW array on a retention pond on their site, which generates 100 percent of their energy needs. It is the first floating solar array in New Jersey and the largest in the country with 12,700 panels. Read the story here.

Like the winery’s floating solar system, the Sayreville wastewater treatment facility’s system is playing a big role in eliminating the problem of algae growth, a major expense that requires the use of costly chemicals. The system also reduces evaporation and helps cool solar modules. Because of the density of panels – there’s no need for wide alleys between rows of racks – the site produces more electricity per acre than a ground-mounted solar system.

Another major benefit is the dual land use. By installing solar arrays on the retention pond, land that doesn’t have any other associated value, the facility didn’t have to purchase additional acreage to go solar. This solution has significant community appeal as the facility did not clear forests or displace farmland for their solar system.

Obviously, locating a large solar system on a body of water poses more engineering challenges than a traditional ground-mounted system. The system has to be secured in such a way that it accommodates the rise and fall of water levels due to condensation, evaporation and drainage. Too, planning for the volotilities of weather – heavy rains, high winds and freezing temperatures – is another requirement.

None of this is insurmountable and the growing popularity of floatovoltaics in Europe, Asia, and now in the United States is a testament to that. The approach is very attractive in areas with dense populations, high land costs and growing demand for solar energy. The World Bank and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) predict global floating solar power production capacity could grow from about 1 gigawatt to many times that in the coming years. With the number of reservoirs and wastewater treatment facilities in the United States alone, these types of solar installations would supply the nation with up to 10 percent of its electricity, according to NREL research published Dec. 27, 2019. Find details here.

Solential has deep experience in solar solutions for wastewater treatment facilities having designed, installed, and maintaining numerous sites across the Midwest. We’re excited about the advantages of floatovoltaics and what this approach can offer our customers. If you’re in the wastewater industry and are interested in learning more about converting to solar energy, want details on some of our past projects or are ready to explore your own solution, I’m available to share information and insight. The first step toward a solar solution is a conversation. Reach me at cmiller@solential.com and via call or text at 317-627-4530.