World’s largest floating solar plant to open in London

A rendering of the floating solar PV array. Image courtesy of Thames Water.
A rendering of the floating solar PV array. Image courtesy of Thames Water.

This month will see the opening of the world’s largest floating solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in London.

Built for Thames Water, and located in the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) reservoir, the plant will help the company generate a targeted one-third of its power needs by 2020.

The plant itself is made up of 23,000 individual photovoltaic panels held on the reservoir’s surface by a series of pontoons.

Once up and running, the array will have a peak capacity of 6.3 megawatts and is expected to generate 5.8 million kilowatt hours in its first year – equivalent to the annual consumption of around 1,800 homes.

Despite this Thames Water plans to use the power generated to run its nearby water treatment works, reducing its own carbon footprint.

“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,” said Thames Water energy manager Angus Berry.

The solar array itself was built in partnership with Lightsource Renewable Energy and Ennoviga Solar. Funding for the construction was reportedly paid by Lightsource, to the tune of around £6m ($8.54m).

“We’re delighted to have begun work on another ambitious milestone project for Lightsource with our first floating solar installation,” said Nick Boyle, CEO of Lightsource.

Components used in the construction of the floating array were also manufactured by Ciel et Terre International, a company which had previously worked on similar projects in Japan.

While upon completion the QEII array will be the largest floating plant in the world, it will soon be eclipsed by a much larger plant built by Kyocera in Japan and expected to begin operation in 2018.

Advantages of floating PV arrays

Part of the reason there is significant interest right now in floating PV arrays is that they present several advantages over their land-based counterparts.

Primarily, they use up otherwise wasted space, and can be built with less planning permissions in the UK than those on-land.

In addition, PV arrays are simpler to build and assemble on water than land, as well as having greater efficiency due to the cooling effect of the water beneath them.