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Throughout Southeast Asia, coal is still a dominant source of power due to its affordability and availability. Hydropower is a clean and reliable alternative, but in sensitive locations such as the Mekong Basin, intense hydropower development on has come under fire for threatening the rich biological productivity of the Mekong river and displacing thousands of people. A promising, climate-safe option is retrofitting existing hydropower reservoirs with floating, utility scale solar PV arrays. This technique is already being applied in a few places in the world, such as India, China and Portugal, but at a scale that is modest compared to the economically-feasible potential. The Natural Heritage Institute (NHI) has recently shown the Governments of Cambodia and Lao PDR how they can utilize this technology to meet their energy needs instead of building new dams, and thereby preserve the Mekong River fishery. NHI’s goal now is to catalyze and accelerate the adoption of floatovoltaics by conducting a screening analysis to identify the reservoirs and power systems throughout Asia (and hopefully around the world) that are the best prospects and therefore warrant an in-depth feasibility study. The potential to increase renewable, climate-smart power with no further environmental and social impacts is huge.
NHI proposes to accelerate the adoption of floatovoltaics by building and implementing a rapid assessment tool to screen candidate reservoirs for feasibility and compare them to new coal powered and hydropower facilities. The World Bank reports that the installed capacity of floatovoltaics has already reached 1.1 GW (2018), up from 10 MW at the end of 2014, and interest in this technology is growing quickly. Not only is solarizing existing hydro becoming cost-competitive with new hydro (present costs of $1,000/kW for floating systems are likely to reduce to $900/kW over the next decade), it also reduces GHG emissions – as much as 357,000 tons per year (for a 280 MW facility, according to solarmang.com) and outperforms other energy options in terms of reliability, rapidity of deployment, and avoidance of financial risks, factors that are of prime importance to developers and grid operators. Furthermore, utilizing floating solar instead of building more dams will keep sediment flows “flowing” that are essential for maintaining the integrity of rivers and deltas that are already threatened by subsidence and sea level rise.
Estimated GHG emissions reduced is as much as 357,000 tons/year (for a 280 MW facility, is according to solarmango.com) Assumes that reduction of CO2 emission per 1 kWh of solar power = 1 kg of CO2.
*Note that the above calculation considers only the reduction in CO2 emissions for the electricity generated from a solar power plant vs. a coal plant and does not take into account CO2 from other parts of the value chain.