Construction work has begun on Europe’s largest floating solar farm at the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near London as part of Thames Water’s plans to source a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
More than 23,000 panels will be floated on the reservoir, providing enough electricity each year to power the equivalent of around 1,800 homes. Due for completion at the end of March, the finished array will cover around a 10th of the reservoir’s surface – the same area as eight Wembley-sized football pitches.
The renewable electricity produced by the 6.3MW array will power a nearby water treatment centre, Thames Water said.
“Becoming a more sustainable business is integral to our long term strategy and this innovative new project brings us one step closer to achieving our goal – this is the right thing for our customers, the right thing for our stakeholders and most importantly the right thing for the environment,” energy manager Angus Berry said in a statement.
Solar energy company Lightsource is managing the installation, which will require more than 61,000 floats and 177 anchors to keep the array above water.
Lightsource chief executive Nick Boyle said that as more industries look to decarbonise, the solar industry will need to develop new skills to ensure projects deliver maximum efficiency.
“There is a great need from energy intensive industries to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as the amount they are spending on electricity and solar can be the perfect solution,” he said in a statement. “We’re therefore constantly evolving new skill sets to ensure that all of our projects deliver maximum energy generation over the lifetime of the installation.”
Floating solar farms are considered an efficient way to maximise renewable energy generation in areas where land is scarce, by using the normally redundant surface area on reservoirs and lakes.
The largest floating solar array is currently under construction on a reservoir in Japan. Once completed, it will provide enough clean electricity to power nearly 5,000 households.
Advocates of the approach argue it can also reduce evaporation from reservoirs, while the cooling effect of the water is said to help improve output from solar PV cells.