As solar power becomes a bigger and bigger part of the overall energy landscape, engineers around the world are busy working out how to build plants that are large and efficient enough to keep up with demand. Now Japanese electronics giant Kyocera is starting construction on what it says will be the largest floating solar power plant (in terms of overall capacity) in the world.
It's the fourth such floating plant Kyocera has worked on so far, but this one promises to be the most impressive yet: the facility is going to be built on the Yamakura Dam reservoir to the south-east of Tokyo in Japan, and will pump out 13.7 megawatts (MW) of power once it's completed in March 2018. Some 51,000 photovoltaic panels will be stitched together to cover around 180,000 square metres (about 44.5 acres) of space.
That's roughly the same area as 18 soccer pitches, so you get a sense of the sort of scale we're talking about here. Kyocera says the new plant will provide enough power for 4,970 average households and offset around 7,411 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year that it's in operation (equivalent to 19,000 barrels of oil).
Floating plants "utilise Japan's abundant water surfaces of reservoirs for agricultural and flood-control purposes", says Kyocera. Of course, usable land is at a premium in the Asian country, so putting these panels on water makes sense. The process of building this plant began back in October 2014, and Kyocera says it has plans to build several more in the future too.
As John Boyd at IEEE Spectrum reports, Kyocera is working with solar experts Ciel et Terre on the plant: the French outfit has been pioneering the use of these types of floating solar panels since 2006. The support modules of the mounting platform are made from a metal-free, recyclable, high-density polyethylene material that's resistant to both corrosion and the Sun’s ultraviolet rays (always a bonus for solar plant construction).
Ciel et Terre says its plants don't impact water quality in any way, although evaporation levels are reduced, and the new installation is going to be anchored to the bottom of the Yamakura Dam reservoir. It's designed to be typhoon-resistant too, so should hold up in the face of the worst that Japan's weather can offer.
Right now, the world's largest solar power plant (floating or otherwise) is the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert of California. Its total energy capacity is 392 MW, and it terms of area covered, it's almost 100 times bigger than Kyocera's latest construction project. What's most important, however, is that solar energy technology is proving versatile enough to be deployed in all kinds of forms across the globe.