Increase longevity of FPV panels — then, plan for their disposition

I applaud movement by NREL to track the disposition of some 800 million metric tons (currently) of solar panels as they near end-of-life.  NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) is leading research around floating photovoltaic (FPV) development in North America. Part of this is taking a realistic look at the longevity of FPV. The panels include valuable forms of silica and other precious materials that represent recycling opportunities associated with their 30-year design life.

Recent movement towards floating photovoltaic installations makes development of effective solar recycling policy particularly critical. Also, assuring the longevity of FPV.  We can’t have potentially toxic materials contaminating precious waterways, particularly hydroelectric reservoirs that are frequently used as drinking water sources.  

Floating Island International (FII) currently targets a sixty-year design life of its floating treatment wetland modules, BioHavens, some 9,000 of which have been launched since 2005.  Our movement towards an extended usable life of our proprietary floating islands primarily used to increase natural wetland effect associated with improved water quality, may facilitate useful life extension for solar panels as well.  Longevity of FPV could be extended by including our BioHaven technology in the design plan.

BioHavens are stable platforms for mounting photovoltaic panels, unlike the pontoon systems associated with numerous failures in the nascent FPV market.  Stability on water leads to reduced O&M, and ultimately towards an extended useful life for the delicate panels.  

Nature is the model that humans can rely on for resilient design.  I am talking of course about using floating wetlands technology to support floating solar applications. We are at a crossroads now.  The next several years will define whether FPV is real, whether it’s a meaningful direction for solar or not.  These are critical times, and NREL’s research is fundamental to strategic policy development.

Nature is the model that humans can rely on for resilient design. I am talking of course about using floating wetlands technology to support floating solar applications.

BioHavens are currently employed primarily in water quality improvement applications in wastewater and stormwater.  They are additionally used as levee protection systems that mitigate wave action in places like the gulf of Mexico, where they have been exposed to hurricanes.  In other settings, the island modules have withstood tornado force winds.  

BioHavens are a unique technology option that can make floating photovoltaic systems more resilient…more able to withstand the increasingly prevalent extreme environmental events associated with climate change.

BioHavens are composed of recycled polyester, the polymer used in drinking water bottles.  In its recycled embodiment, the polymer is fashioned into a nonwoven matrix form.  As waves come in contact with the matrix, wave energy is spread out, and dispersed.  This process reduces wave energy, and corresponding impact on levee erosion.  

BioHavens are a unique technology option that can make floating photovoltaic systems more resilient…more able to withstand the increasingly prevalent extreme environmental events associated with climate change.  NREL’s work towards policy that defines recycling parameters for FPV is absolutely fundamental to the future of solar energy generation on water!

a team of people work at the edge of an algae ridden (green) wastewater plant to install BioHaven floating islands that look like brown matrix platforms with holes for plants
BioHavens ready to work cleaning up wastewater
in a high altitude setting near Red Lodge, Montana.