This March 2016 saw more than 23,000 solar panels mounted on an air-filled float on the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir on the outskirts of London. Then divers fixed it to the bottom of the vast manmade lake with 177 anchors.
Five years in planning – and briefly the world’s biggest – the solar array will generate power for local water treatment plants for decades, without negative impact on the ecosystem. And it’s just powered up.
With a surface area of 57,000 metres squared (the size of eight football pitches), the farm covers less than 10 percent of the reservoir. According to The Guardian, the £6 million (about $8.5 million) project will provide clean drinking water to London and south-east England’s 10 million residents as cables carry power ashore to the treatment centre a few kilometres away.
“This will be the biggest floating solar farm in the world for a time – others are under construction,” notes Angus Berry, energy manager for Thames Water, which owns the site. “We are leading the way, but we hope that others will follow, in the UK and abroad.”
And they are. A similar floating solar farm with is being built by water company United Utilities on a reservoir near Manchester and an even bigger farm, more than twice the QEII farm, will be constructed on a reservoir in Japan by 2018.
“Solar energy doesn’t generate as a flat base load, it generates when the sun’s out. The demand of our water treatment works doesn’t go to zero at night and we have to pump water at night for example, so you could never get all the water treatment demand from solar installation. So it’s part of an overall strategy of multiple elements,” adds Berry.
Watch Thames Water’s ambitious effort to generate a third of its own electricity by 2020 in action below.
Angus Berry, Energy Manager, Thames Water
United Kingdom (Walton-on-Thames)