Deltares is studying the direct and indirect effects of solar farms on water. That knowledge is needed to make good decisions about the design and management of floating solar farms on a large scale. We are also looking at the various goals and functions of the water. This knowledge effort for solar energy involves working with, among others, water authorities, municipal and provincial authorities, the private sector and other research institutes.

Our ambition is to have a clearer understanding of the impact of floating solar panels in three years from now. We want to know:

  • what the effects are
  • whether the effects are positive or negative
  • how big the effects are
  • whether negative effects can be mitigated by making design adjustments
  • whether it is possible to establish acceptable permit conditions from the point of view of water quality and the ecology

In this way, we will ensure that decisions can be taken on the basis of sound knowledge. For example, we can ensure that water authorities not turn down permit applications by being over-cautious because of a lack of knowledge. Our aim is also to make sure that we still have clean, healthy and sufficiently fresh surface water.

Impact of floating solar panels

The potential positive and negative effects of a floating solar farm are:

  • Interaction between atmosphere and water surface can change. Little is known about this as yet
  • Because the panels block light, less lights will pentrate into the water, which may also cool off, and the amount of oxygen in the water may also fall
  • Less light for aquatic plants
  • A sheltered area (with slower currents) may be created below ghe panels, making this an appealing habitat for fish. Sediment may settle to the bed more easily
  • Unwanted substances may enter the water as a result of cleaning, and wear and tear, of the panels, or corrosion of the anchoring system
  • View, and experience, of water will change
  • Place for birds to rest on the water. Possible increase in fish numbers will attract birds
Potential positive and negative effects of a floating solar farm.
Potential positive and negative effects of a floating solar farm.

Multiple use of space

Innovative solutions that facilitate the multiple use of space, such as floating solar farms in combination with water storage or improvements to nature and water quality, are high on the global agenda. Ideas such as combining hydroelectric reservoirs with floating solar panels are put forward regularly. The idea of solar atolls on the IJsselmeer lake is another good example in this context.

But the combination of floating solar farms with new developments such as marine farms is also being considered. To establish a picture of feasibility and the effects on the water system, Deltares uses existing hydrodynamic and ecological models to simulate and predict the situation. We can deploy these models to describe the effects, such as the reduction of light penetration or possible changes in the flora and fauna.

We are also looking at the interaction between solar panels and waves. Do these floating structures dampen waves and can they cope with the wave climate on the North Sea, for example? Which configuration of solar panels results in the maximum dampening effect? We can answer these questions using our physical wave facilities and wave models. This knowledge is essential to establish win-win situations and facilitate the multiple use of space.

Available knowledge about floating solar panels

Although many questions still have to be answered, Deltares has already conducted a range of studies on floating solar panels and energy. They include:

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