Two tugboats recently hauled an enormous array of 12,000 solar panels to its mooring on Portugal’s Alqueva reservoir – the largest artificial lake in Western Europe.
The Alqueva reservoir which already produces hydropower, will be supplemented by 7.5 gigawatt/hours (GWh) of electricity per year from solar power ultimately producing enough energy to supply the needs of 92,000 homes nearby.
Traditionally, panels for floating solar power plants sit on plastic floats. Looking to the future, and because EDP (Portugal’s national electricity company) is committed to sustainability and promoting a circular economy, EDP challenged Amorim Cork Composites, which markets cork, and Isigenere, which manufactures floats, to produce a float with a lower CO2 footprint. Together, the three companies developed an unprecedented float, made with composites of cork and HDPE (recycled plastic), unlike alternatives, which are made entirely from virgin plastic. The blue colour of this entirely new material is well camouflaged in the water.
Adding a floating photovoltaic power plant is also complementary to the dam, given that when it rains (benefiting hydroelectric production) there is less sunlight and vice-versa.
Another notable advantage is constructing the power plant on the surface of the reservoir behind the dam leaves land available for agriculture or recreational activities, for example, while having less impact on the environment and landscape than a land-based solution.