Water conservation potential of self-funded foam-based flexible surface-mounted floatovoltaics
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A potential solution to the coupled water–energy–food challenges in land use is the concept of floating photovoltaics or floatovoltaics (FPV). In this study, a new approach to FPV is investigated using a flexible crystalline silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) module backed with foam, which is less expensive than conventional pontoon-based FPV. This novel form of FPV is tested experimentally for operating temperature and performance and is analyzed for water-savings using an evaporation calculation adapted from the Penman–Monteith model. The results show that the foam-backed FPV had a lower operating temperature than conventional pontoon-based FPV, and thus a 3.5% higher energy output per unit power. Therefore, foam-based FPV provides a potentially profitable means of reducing water evaporation in the world’s at-risk bodies of fresh water. The case study of Lake Mead found that if 10% of the lake was covered with foam-backed FPV, there would be enough water conserved and electricity generated to service Las Vegas and Reno combined. At 50% coverage, the foam-backed FPV would provide over 127 TWh of clean solar electricity and 633.22 million m3 of water savings, which would provide enough electricity to retire 11% of the polluting coal-fired plants in the U.S. and provide water for over five million Americans, annually.