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More Efficient Photovoltaic Plants with Smaller Environmental Impact

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Has science devised a better solar-power plant?

Established in December of 2011, the Floating Tracking Cooling Concentrator (FTCC) is a new Photovoltaic (PV) plant system. In this system, the PV panels are placed on floating supports in water reservoirs. The FTCC makes the plant more efficient, and results in a smaller impact on the environment.

Solar Cell – Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Photovoltaics (PVs), also referred to as solar cells, are employed to convert sunlight into electricity. There is growing interest in these systems, as they produce energy from a renewable source. At the moment, however, there are still limits to the use of PVs.

One issue is the low efficiency of energy conversion (about 30% for a single material solar cell); the cost for the production of solar cells is another problem,

In recent years, however, remarkable progress was made in this field, as PV cells were produced using different materials and with different processes; all this caused an increase in the efficiency of the cells and, at the same time, a decrease in the production price.

PV Plants on a Larger Scale

Because of the latest developments, more and more large PV plants have been built; these plants, still present some problems, as reported below.

  • To build large PV plants, big open fields are necessary. The plants growing in the fields could have a high impact on the environment.
  • If operating for many hours, the PV panel can overheat; this thermal drift reduces the efficiency of the system.
  • The panels need support, normally referred to as tracking. The tracking systems can be quite expensive.

Innovative System: Floating Tracking Cooling Concentrator (FTCC)

An FTCC plant floats in open bodies of water. Photo from Scienza Industria Tecnologia

A new system, called Floating Tracking Cooling Concentrator (FTCC), was developed by the Italian company, Scienza Industria Tecnologia. This system can partially reduce the problems mentioned above, making the PVs more efficient and competitive.

In the FTCC plants, the panels are placed on floating platforms in water basins; the platforms are supported by a structure made of polyethylene tubes. The picture on the side shows one of these systems, built in a small village in the province of Pisa (central Italy).

Highly Reduced Impact on the Environment

The FCTT systems can be located in unused water basins and/or reservoirs; this partially solves the problems associated with the use of big open fields. Furthermore, FTCC plants do not require a fixed structure; this means that, when necessary, the plants can be removed, without any considerable effect on the environment. Due to the simplicity of the removal process, the decommissioning cost is also quite low (less than one percent of the cost of the plant).

More Efficient Collection of Solar Radiation

Concentrators in an FTCC plant. Photo by Scienza Industria Tecnologia.

The floating platforms of the FCTT plants can be easily oriented in a particular direction; this allows them to be moved slightly in the direction of the sun (Tracking). In this way, more solar radiation can be collected, increasing the amount of energy produced.

To increase radiation collected, a system of reflectors (Concentrators) is placed at the side of the panels. In addition, the use of the concentrators has an effect on the cost of the panels; the concentrators are made of aluminium, a material that is much cheaper than the silicon (or the other materials) employed in the solar cells. This means that a PV panel with higher efficiency can be made without using more silicon.

Cooling the Solar Panels

The water of the basins/reservoirs where the FTCCs are located can be used to cool down the panels and avoid their overheating; this is achieved with a system of sprinklers. This can improve the efficiency of the PV panels and lead to an increase in the energy production by up to 10%. Furthermore, the thermal stress the panels undergo to is significantly decreased; this makes the life cycle of the panel longer.

FTCC Plant at Work

Professor Marco Rosa-Clot, CEO of Scienza Industria Tecnologia, has built the plant in collaboration with Koinè Multimedia, and tells Decoded Science more about the FTCC plant.

The first FCTT power plant started working in 2011 near Pisa (central Italy); it has a power of 30 kWp. We calculated that it can produce about 75% more energy, in comparison with a ground plant. These calculations were made for the latitude of Pisa, but the advantage could be even greater in other areas with more sun irradiation, such as the south of Italy.

At the moment, two more plants, of 20 and 100 kWp respectively, are being built in Korea, using our system.

Our aim is to optimize the FTCC system and make floating PVs able to generate electricity that is cheaper than that generated from oil or natural gas. We hope to achieve this by 2013, we are working on it.”

Improving Solar Power Production Through Innovation

Solar power has a great deal of potential as a power source, but the common drawbacks that come along with the utilization of PV cells, such as costly materials, overheating, and environmental impact, tend to reduce the efficiency of PV plants. Innovations such as the FTCC Photovoltaic plant and improvements in materials go a long way towards making the renewable energy of solar radiation a more viable power source for the future.

Sources

Scienza Industria Tecnologia. FTCC Photovoltaic Plant.

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