National Geographic recently reported on an extraordinary innovation in solar power that involves the construction of floating solar panels on bodies of water. One of the first and thus far largest efforts along those lines is taking place in Japan, on top of the reservoir Yamakura Dam in Chiba prefecture, just east of Tokyo.

The facility is due to be completed in March 2016. It will measure 180,000 square meters, consist of 50,000 solar panels, and will power 5,000 Japanese households. It may be the first of many such solar power facilities that will be built on bodies of water such as lakes, canals, and even wetlands. Japan, with its small landmass and its huge population, can, therefore, free up land for other uses such as agriculture.

Building solar power plants on the water presents certain technical challenges. Everything needs to be waterproofed, and great care needs to be taken to not contaminate the water supply. These types of plants also have to be proof against storms and tidal waves. However, because they are floating on bodies of water, these types of solar plants are better able to withstand earthquakes than those built on dry land, a prime consideration is seismically unstable Japan.

Building floating solar power plants on the ocean, offshore, is a possibility, but also one fraught with unique technical problems. From salt water corrosion to waves and changing water levels, offshore solar seems to be, for the time being, something for the future. In the meantime, inland bodies of water are the new frontier for increasing solar’s share of energy production.

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