June 6, 2024

UK Researchers Claim Some African Countries Can be 100% Solar Powered

Researchers from Bangor and Lancaster Universities and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) panels could meet the entire electricity needs of some countries. Their study calculated the daily electrical output of FPV systems on nearly 68,000 lakes and reservoirs worldwide, using local climate data.

68,000 Lakes and Reservoirs can be Utilized Globally

The study, conducted by researchers from Bangor and Lancaster Universities and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, sought to evaluate the global potential for low-carbon floating solar arrays. The researchers estimated the daily electrical output for floating photovoltaics (FPV) on nearly 68,000 lakes and reservoirs worldwide, using climate data specific to each location.

The researchers' calculations targeted lakes and reservoirs where floating solar technology is most feasible. These water bodies were within 10km of a population center, not in protected areas, did not dry up, and did not freeze for more than six months each year. The output estimates were based on FPV systems covering just 10% of the surface area, up to a maximum of 30 km².

Floating solar panels offer significant advantages over land-based installations, conserving land and enhancing efficiency. They have the potential to generate around 1302 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity annually, roughly four times the UK's total annual demand. Additionally, they may mitigate environmental issues like water loss through evaporation and algal blooms by shielding the lake surface from sunlight and wind.

However, the researchers emphasize that further research is needed to fully assess the environmental impact of FPV. They advise that decisions about deploying FPV should take into account the intended functions and uses of water bodies, as well as the potential ecological impacts.

Africa has the Highest Potential

Dr. Iestyn Woolway of Bangor University highlighted that the exact effects of floating panels on lake ecosystems in various conditions are still uncertain, but the energy generation potential from FPV is clear. This highlights the necessity for further research to ensure the safe adoption of this technology. The researchers chose 10% of a lake’s surface area as a likely safe deployment level for FPV, though this might need to be adjusted in certain situations.

The study's country-by-country analysis revealed that five nations, including Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, could meet their entire electricity needs with FPV. Other countries, like Bolivia and Tonga, could meet 87% and 92% of their electricity demand, respectively. Numerous countries, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Central Asia, could meet between 40% and 70% of their annual electricity needs with FPV. In Europe, Finland could meet 17% of its electricity.

The researchers discovered that the UK has the capacity to generate 2.7 TWh of electricity per year from FPV. Although this constitutes just under 1% of the overall electricity demand, it could supply power to approximately one million households, based on Ofgem's estimation of average household electricity usage at 2,700 kWh per annum.

Currently, there are only a few FPV installations in the UK, with the largest being a 6.3 MW floating solar farm situated on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near London.

Lower-income Countries With Ample Sunlight

Dr. Woolway noted that even with the criteria established for a realistic FPV deployment scenario, there are benefits across various regions, particularly in lower-income countries with ample sunlight, but also in Northern European nations. The criteria were selected based on clear exclusions, such as lakes within protected areas, as well as factors aimed at reducing deployment costs and risks.

Professor Armstrong, a co-author from Lancaster University, emphasized that their study demonstrates considerable global potential for FPV. However, she stressed the importance of strategic deployment, considering implications for energy security, the environment, and society's well-being, alongside efforts towards achieving Net Zero goals.

The studies carried out by UK institutions propose that floating solar panels could effectively satisfy the electricity demands of various nations, particularly in Africa. Despite promising advantages such as energy generation potential and environmental benefits, successful deployment hinges on strategic planning and further research.

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