Japan: floating solar islands


After the Fukushima disaster of 2011 Japan hopes to move ahead and meet the energy needs of its 127m people without relying on nuclear power.

dr jon major solar liverpoolIn an article in The Conversation, Dr Jon Major, a research fellow at the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy (University of Liverpool), reports that two companies in Japan have announced they are to build two huge solar power islands floating on reservoirs.

These follow the installation of several smaller solar power plants – the largest in Kagoshima Prefecture (below), which opened in late 2013 and floats in the sea off the coast of southern Japan. This form of offshore solar farming consists of little more than building a pier and covering it in solar panels.

cost pv graphDr Major explains: “Solar power is an obvious solution for relatively resource-poor nations. It is clean, cost-competitive, has no restrictions on where it can be used and has the capability to make up for the energy shortfall. A small fact that solar researchers love to trot out is that enough sunlight falls on the earth’s landmass around every 40 minutes to power the planet for a year. To put this another way, if we covered a fraction of the Sahara desert in solar panels we could power the world many times over.

“The technology already exists, so producing enough solar power comes primarily down to one thing: space. For countries such as the USA with lots of sparsely populated land this is not an issue, and there have already been a large number of “solar farms” installed around the country.

Kagoshima solar power plant

“In places like Japan where space is limited, more inventive solutions are required. This is the principle reason behind the decision to move their solar power generation offshore. While the land is highly congested, and therefore expensive, the sea is largely unused. It therefore makes a good degree of sense to use this space for floating power plants”.

He ends: “Solar islands could certainly be a solution for other countries where space is an issue – it’s possible that one day a significant portion of Europe’s power could be generated by giant solar pontoons in the ocean. The technology exists and the engineering challenges are nothing that can’t be overcome”.

Read about Dr Major’s work to replace toxic & expensive cadmium chloride in solar pv cells here: http://news.liv.ac.uk/2014/06/25/watch-tofu-ingredient-could-revolutionise-solar-panel-manufacture/