During our years of youth we were told to keep electrical appliances away from the water for fear of electric shock. It is a simple notion that water, not in its purest form, but with minerals or other particles, may act as a conductor of electricity. Water in its purest form is simply not enough to act as a good conductor of electricity due to the fact that the hydrogen and oxygen (as a water molecule) do not carry enough charge. Saltwater, which contains water and NaCL, is a much better conductor. That is because the salt contains positive sodium and negative chloride ions.
For a substance to act as a conductor, two conditions must be met; namely, there must be charged particles in the substance and the particles must have fluidity of movement. Under certain conditions, water (whether it be tap, ocean or lake) can therefore conduct electricity and cause electric shock. It is safe to say that one should NEVER put an electrical device in or near water. Perhaps that is why the weather forecasters warn so heavily against swimming or boating during a storm when lightning may be present.
While that valuable lesson will hold true forever, it hardly means that electricity cannot be produced on or over water, as quite the contrary is happening right before our eyes. Our neighbors overseas or “across the pond” as we may affectionately describe, are developing methods of creating solar fields over bodies of water. Solar panels installed on rafts or other floating devices do not only create electricity, but also carry a number of benefits for the water body over which they float.
To name a few benefits, floating solar panels, whether they be 100W or 250W may reduce the rate of water evaporation. While this does not seem particularly important, if the water is being used as a reservoir or other container, less evaporation translates into greater water storage. The shade that is created under the panels may potentially reduce the algae and bacterial growth that thrive in brighter, warmer environments. The last benefit ties in with the aforementioned shade aspect; the shade created by the panels may keep the water cooler, which in turn, may keep it cleaner. In other areas where space is at a premium, floating panels may reduce crowding.
So, the next logical question may be, “Who can benefit from floating panels?” Large cities on or near bodies of water may be the perfect beneficiaries of the floating panel concept. Urban sprawl shows no immediate signs of dissipation as populations continue to grow and resources become scarce. Where there is a lack of space but a vast expansion of water, floating panels would not take up valuable land space. Rural or desert areas that rely on reservoirs for clean water can depend of floating panels for those reasons mentioned in the previous paragraphs. While the engineering, logistics, and planning for placing floating panels over larger expansions of water may not be complete, it no doubt seems to be a possibility to come in the near future.
As solar demand and use continues to climb, the need for innovative solar solutions will as well. It seems to be a common theme to state that the US generally lags behind in solar innovation when compared to the rest of the world. While oftentimes these “ridiculers” are referring to use innovation, they surely are not referring to the technology and efficiency of the solar cell itself. When it comes to the efficiency of the cell, the US seems to be at the forefront, at least for the time being.