Colorado Energy Office Releases Study on Floating Solar Potential in the State

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DENVER – Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 – The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) today released Colorado’s Statewide Potential Study for the Implementation of Floating Solar Photovoltaic Arrays. With the support of study lead Ciel & Terre and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), CEO conducted a state-wide analysis of suitable water bodies to examine the potential for electricity production from floating solar photovoltaic systems.

Floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) systems, also known as floatovoltaics, are an emerging application in which the most common components of traditional solar PV systems are mounted onto buoyant “floats.” These floats allow solar PV modules, wiring and electronics components to be sited directly on the surface of a body of water instead of on land or a rooftop. This floating application leverages the water surface that is typically viewed as an unused area for many non-recreational water bodies. Covering water bodies through various means, including FPV, has been shown to reduce evaporation and improve the local aquatic environment, presenting a unique multi-benefit opportunity. While Colorado could benefit from a reduction in evaporation from its lakes, ponds and reservoirs, the state’s climate—with large temperature swings and a variety of climate zones—also presents challenges for FPV systems which have had limited testing in extreme cold.

Since the 2018 installation of a 75 kW FPV array in the Town of Walden, where multiple parties are closely monitoring the system’s performance and resilience to the harsh climate, FPV continues to attract the interest of stakeholders from both the energy and water sectors in Colorado. Following CEO’s work with the Walden project and a number of solar PV and water efficiency initiatives, the office conducted this study to better understand how FPV might align with Colorado’s diverse geography and ambitious clean energy and climate goals.

Using existing public datasets and satellite imagery, CEO identified nearly 6,000 potential sites for floating solar installations—1,900 of which were rated as ideal. Through the application of NREL’s PVWatts® Calculator and using conservative coverage ratios on identified bodies of water, the study found FPV in Colorado has potential installed capacity exceeding 11,090 MW and resulting in annual electrical generation greater than 16,000 GWh. These conservative estimates present considerable electricity generation potential relative to Colorado’s existing electricity generation capacity and output, 69% and 32% respectively.

"Governor Polis has adopted bold goals for renewable energy and climate action to transition from burning polluting fuels to widespread adoption of pollution-free electricity generation including wind and solar,” said CEO Executive Director Will Toor. “Floating solar is an important option for communities and utilities to consider as we collectively move toward this clean energy vision.”

“This potential study helps electric utilities, developers and water body owners throughout Colorado better understand how floating solar might provide another means for meeting water conservation and renewable energy goals,” said Taylor Lewis, CEO Senior Program Engineer.

The study is available for download here along with appendices that identify potential FPV sites by county and utility.