Monday Feb 06, 2023

Too pricey, too icy: Why Canada is trailing the world on floating solar panels – CBC News


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This week:

  • Why Canada is trailing the world on floating solar panels
  • A closer look at the landmark U.S. climate bill
  • Invasive reptiles and amphibians have cost global economy billions, study suggests

Too pricey, too icy: Why Canada is trailing the world on floating solar panels

(Jack Taylor/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Ibrahim Dincer, Toronto Harbour is missing out on an emerging renewable energy source: floating solar panels.

The professor of mechanical engineering at Ontario Tech University recently proposed a zero-emissions alternative to the City of Toronto’s aging ferry fleet that would see new electric boats draw power from a large floating solar panel near the shore of Lake Ontario.

Given that Toronto only has four ferries in its fleet, even fully electric replacements would do little to address the city’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. But Dincer said the point is to provide a “landmark” demonstration.

“The numbers may look small,” he said. “But this study clearly shows that this system is feasible.”

Floating solar projects are designed to blanket the water’s surface, supporting row upon row of reflective blue panels atop a buoyant base. But as Canada’s lukewarm response to floating photovoltaics shows, an interesting and feasible technology doesn’t guarantee widespread adoption.

Floating solar may account for a small percentage of global solar power capacity, but countries are beginning to invest in large installations.

“It’s grown exponentially — very rapidly,” said Manish Kumar, a professor at Himachel Pradesh University in India who studies the sector. Kumar estimated floating solar could capture around a quarter of total solar installation within the decade, jumping from around two per cent today.

Japan was first to embrace the technology in 2017, and the heaviest users continue to be populous Asian countries (such as Thailand, pictured in the photo above) where land is at a premium. Without the same pressing need to conserve land, Canada has been slower to act. 

According to a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada, the country’s large size and “abundance of water bodies” mean it has significant potential. To date, however, the technology is largely non-existent in Canada; Natural Resources Canada is not currently funding a single floating solar project.

The agency provided three main reasons for that: high cost compared to ground-mounted solar; limited hours of sunlight at northern latitudes; and concerns about ice coverage in northern hydropower reservoirs — the sites where the technology is most often deployed.

Kumar said at least one of these concerns is unfounded. Ice, he said, shouldn’t negatively impact the performance of the technology — and cooler temperatures may even improve efficiency.

Researchers have explored the idea of installing panels on abandoned mine tailings ponds, the ocean and reservoirs created by hydroelectric dams. Most are found on reservoirs, said Rafael Almeida, a professor of environmental science at the …….


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