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The Shifting Shapes of Solar Farms

They’re more than just massive fields of black panels

A satellite photo of an almost-finished solar farm near Walt Disney World in Orlando reveals a familiar face. (Image Courtesy of NearMap.com)
smithsonian.com

In just a few weeks, the world’s largest floating solar power farm will power up in the United Kingdom. Situated in a manmade lake just outside of London, a system of 23,000 solar panels will provide enough energy to power water treatment plants in the region, providing clean drinking water to as many as 10 million people in London and its surroundings, Fiona Harvey reports for The Guardian.

“This will be the biggest floating solar farm in the world for a time—others are under construction,” Angus Berry, energy manager for the solar farm’s owner, Thames Water, tells Harvey. “We are leading the way, but we hope that others will follow.”

While the phrase “solar farm” might conjure up the image of fields of solar panels on pylons sitting in rows, these power plants are taking on a wide variety of shapes and designs to match the local landscape. Solar panels are a versatile medium and can be adapted in many ways for the most efficient energy production.

Here are just a few examples of some interesting takes on the solar farm:

Take to the Water

(Thames Water)

The solar farm covers about a tenth of the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near Heathrow Airport, and unlike some other designs won’t stick out like a sore thumb.

The pictured panels are just a few of this large solar farm. When finished, the floating solar panel array will generate about 6.3 megawatts of electricity—enough to power about 1,800 homes. However, Thames Water will use that energy to power water treatment plants that service London and parts of southeastern England, Harvey reports.

QEII won’t be the biggest floating solar farm for long. Kyocera is currently building one twice it’s size in a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba prefecture as part of a drive to replace the infamous Fukushima nuclear power plant with floating solar farms. But while these plants may work for countries like Japan with minimal land available, U.K.-based solar advisor Ray Noble says they won’t replace land-based plants any time soon, Adam Vaughan reports for The Guardian.

“If you’re short on land like they are in Japan, you could build on water,” Noble tells Vaughan. “But in the UK with plenty of industrialized areas, it’s cheaper to put solar on land than on water.”

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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