Japan's Floating Solar Stations

A new trend in renewable energy is the building of solar stations on water, and at the forefront, with incredibly ambitious plans, is Japan. 

Two new floating solar stations in Kato City are expecting to power around 920 households, while a larger plan is in the works. Kyocera, a Japanese electronics manufacturer, is working with Ciel et Terre (a French company), and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation to build a giant solar plant on the Yamakura Dam just east of Tokyo. It is projected to be completed in March 2016, contain 50,000 photovoltaic solar panels, and will have the capability to power around 5,000 households.

One of the primary benefits of placing solar panels on water is the preservation of land, which is especially of concern in Japan. Furthermore, because water cools the solar panels, it makes them more energy efficient (saving a calculated 11 to 20 percent more energy than ground systems), while the shade provided by the panels prevents water evaporation - an environmentally friendly aftereffect. 

One of the most challenging aspects of this project is ensuring that all of the tech is waterproof and capable of withstanding natural disasters - especially given Japan's prevalent earthquakes. Promisingly, however, the solar systems were tested in France's aerospace lab and could withstand winds up to 118 miles per hour, suggesting that they could survive hurricanes. 

It will also be important to monitor how floating solar farms on natural, rather than man-made, bodies of water affect the ecosystem. By darkening and cooling the water on which the panels sit, this will naturally increase algae, which could have both negative and positive effects.

This is a promising move towards Japan's goal to use entirely renewable energy by 2040, especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Floating solar stations are literally a new frontier for renewable energy, and also being planned in the UK, Australia, India, and Italy.

The French company Ciel et Terre is also experimenting with placing solar panels on salt-water, exploring the option of building on oceans. While the ample available space is a huge benefit, developing appropriate tech will be challenging and costly, and it may be impractical to produce electricity so far from where it's being used.