Engineers design solar panels that float and track the sun

Colignola floating solar panels
Colignola floating solar panels (Image:

In the small lake of Colignola, Italy, engineers have built a cost-effective prototype for floating and rotating solar panels. Standard solar panels on buildings, or in fields are often criticized for taking up valuable agricultural land, and also for being a bit of an eye-sore. Most standard solar panels are also stationary, only taking advantage of the sunlight for a limited amount of time during the day. They also have a tendency to lose energy through overheating.

The floating solar panels are intended to resolve a lot of these issues. Designed to take advantage of unused areas of artificial reservoirs or disused quarries they would, if placed correctly, hardly be visible from a far. The water would also keep the panels at low temperatures minimizing overheating issues. The reflectors are positioned to maximize solar capture at different times of day, and rotating to track the sun for optimized performance. This should make them more efficient than a traditional installations.

“You are standing on a photovoltaic floating plant which tracks the sun, it’s the first platform of its kind in the world!”, said Marco Rosa-Clot, a professor at Florence University, proudly showing off his new project.

At an estimated price of around €1,600 per kW ($2,100/kW) including installation, a plant the size of Colignola could cost some $48,000 ($64,000). The team estimate that their system costs 20 percent less than ground-based structures. The flat panels are winged by reflectors and sit on raft-like structures which are anchored to the lake bed with a pylon.

The Floating Tracking Cooling Concentrator (FTCC) system is designed to exploit unused areas of artificial reservoirs or disused quarries. “Our system is designed for low-lying quarries. The installation is only about a meter (three feet) high and usually you can’t see it until you get to the water’s edge. It is not at all intrusive”, said engineer Raniero Cazzaniga who works on the project. Rosa-Clot and his team are set to revolutionizing solar power and their floating flower-petal-like panels placed in the lake of Colignola have already attracted a lot of interest from international buyers.

Rosa-Clot said: “Reactions from abroad have been very positive. Some Koreans came to Pisa to see us and we signed a three-year contract giving them a license to build this sort of installation in South Korea.”

The Korean company Techwin has built a floating photovoltaic plant using the FTCC technology, and in Italy the Terra Moretti group has installed one on an irrigation reservoir at its winery near Livorno.