Floating solar panels, or “Floatovoltaics” are playing an increasingly important role in the development of renewable energy resources, as well as mitigating drought conditions caused by climate change. Floatovoltaic projects are already in development around the world from Japan to Brazil, and according to Philip Warburg’s article in Yale Environment 360, they could be put to excellent use in the American Southwest:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates that 800,000 acre-feet of water– nearly six percent of the Colorado River’s annual flow – is baked off Lake Mead’s surface by the searing desert sun during an average year. Lake Powell loses about 860,000 acre-feet annually to evaporation and bank seepage. Since floatovoltaics can reduce evaporation in dry climates by as much as 90 percent, covering portions of these two water bodies with solar panels could result in significant water savings.
Extrapolating from the spatial needs of floating solar farms already built or designed, the electricity gains from installing floatovoltaics on just a fraction of these man-made desert lakes could be momentous. If 6 percent of Lake Mead’s surface were devoted to solar power, the yield would be at least 3,400 megawatts of electric-generating capacity – substantially more than the Hoover Dam’s generating capacity of 2,074 megawatts.