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Is Solar Energy Water-Bound?

Solar power is a competitive industry and the race is on to see which company or research team can devise the most efficient and cost-effective technology. Israel’s Solaris Newsrooms Energy and France’s EDF Group have joined forces to come up with a system that solves many of the issues that continue to plague most traditional applications of solar technology, including space and cost.

Science Daily reports that the collaboration has resulted in floating solar power plants. The joint project has been running for some time and is now nearing the end of its second phase, namely construction of the prototype. It’s hoped that by September 2011 they will be able to launch phase three, which is implementation of the technology accompanied by analysis and testing.

Testing will take place over a period of nine months at Cadarache, in the South East of France, during which researchers will gain insight into how seasons and water levels affect productivity and performance. Come June 2012 and the team of collaborators hopes that they’ll be able to let their products loose on the market.

Dr Kassel, one of the lead researchers on the project, says that a lot of thought went into which bodies of water would be most suitable for the project. They needed a large body of water but obviously didn’t want to interfere in natural water systems or impinge on tourist resorts or chance the waves at sea. In the end it was decided to use industrial water basins that are already being used for other purposes. Consideration was also given to the preservation of aquatic life in the water basins. As a result, the system has been designed to be breathable, that is, oxygen is still able to get through to the water.

Science Daily cites Dr Kassel: “One of the implementation phase’s goals is to closely monitor the possible effects of this new technology on the environment with the help of specialists and a preliminary check shows no detrimental environmental impact on water quality, flora or fauna. Our choices of materials were always made with this concern in mind.”

As groundbreaking as the idea sounds, it isn’t new.

In May 2008, Peter Richardson won the International Design Awards Land and Sea competition with an idea for Solar Lily Pads. Richardson envisioned a series of lily pad-shaped platforms covered with solar panels floating down the River Clyde in Glasgow.

A month later Inhabitat revealed a winery in Napa Valley, California, that generated energy by using a solar power system that floated on pontoons on its irrigation pond. The winery reported that they found that the floating solar panels not only generated electricity but also significantly reduced evaporation.

Also in 2008, Thomas Hinderling, a researcher and CEO of Swiss R&D company Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique, landed a lucrative funding deal to build solar islands in the United Arab Emirates. The islands would be designed to float on the ocean and the panels would rotate to get full exposure to the sun.

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