Growing global energy use and the adoption of sustainability goals to limit carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning are increasing the demand for clean energy, including solar. Floating photovoltaic (FPV) systems on reservoirs are advantageous over traditional ground-mounted solar systems in terms of land conservation, efficiency improvement and water loss reduction. Here, based on multiple reservoir databases and a realistic climate-driven photovoltaic system simulation, we estimate the practical potential electricity generation for FPV systems with a 30% coverage on 114,555 global reservoirs is 9,434 ± 29 TWh yr−1. Considering the proximity of most reservoirs to population centres and the potential to develop dedicated local power systems, we find that 6,256 communities and/or cities in 124 countries, including 154 metropolises, could be self-sufficient with local FPV plants. Also beneficial to FPV worldwide is that the reduced annual evaporation could conserve 106 ± 1 km3 of water. Our analysis points to the huge potential of FPV systems on reservoirs, but additional studies are needed to assess the potential long-term consequences of large systems.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$119.00 per year
only $9.92 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
The solar radiation data are available at https://ceres.larc.nasa.gov/data/#syn1deg-level-3; the temperature and wind speed data are available at https://cds.climate.copernicus.eu/cdsapp#!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-land?tab=overview; the GRanD database is available at https://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/data/collection/grand-v1; the GeoDAR data are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6163413; the latest global reservoir database from OSM can be extracted from https://www.openstreetmap.org/; the electricity demand data for countries are available at https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2021; the GADM data are available at https://gadm.org/index.html; the global population distribution data from LandScan are available at https://landscan.ornl.gov/; the gridded global datasets for GDP are available at https://datadryad.org/stash/dataset/doi:10.5061/dryad.dk1j0; and the CRU data are available at https://crudata.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/hrg/. The data that support the findings of this study are also available from the corresponding author upon request.
The scripts used to generate all the results are written in MATLAB (R2022a). All data and code are available at https://www.zhenzhongzeng.com/resources/.
Mora, C. et al. Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 1062–1071 (2018).
Sahu, A., Yadav, N. & Sudhakar, K. Floating photovoltaic power plant: a review. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 66, 815–824 (2016).
Hernandez, R. R. et al. Environmental impacts of utility-scale solar energy. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 29, 766–779 (2014).
van de Ven, D.-J. et al. The potential land requirements and related land use change emissions of solar energy. Sci. Rep. 11, 2907 (2021).
Rauf, H., Gull, M. S. & Arshad, N. Integrating floating solar PV with hydroelectric power plant: analysis of Ghazi Barotha reservoir in Pakistan. Energy Procedia 158, 816–821 (2019).
Solomin, E., Sirotkin, E., Cuce, E., Selvanathan, S. P. & Kumarasamy, S. Hybrid floating solar plant designs: a review. Energies 14, 2751 (2021).
Bontempo Scavo, F., Tina, G. M., Gagliano, A. & Nižetić, S. An assessment study of evaporation rate models on a water basin with floating photovoltaic plants. Int. J. Energy Res. 45, 167–188 (2021).
Where Sun Meets Water: Floating Solar Handbook for Practitioners (World Bank Group, ESMAP, SERIS, 2019).
Global Floating Solar Panels Industry (ReportLinker, 2022).
Almeida, R. M. et al. Floating solar power could help fight climate change—let’s get it right. Nature 606, 246–249 (2022).
Gonzalez Sanchez, R., Kougias, I., Moner-Girona, M., Fahl, F. & Jäger-Waldau, A. Assessment of floating solar photovoltaics potential in existing hydropower reservoirs in Africa. Renew. Energy 169, 687–699 (2021).
Mahmood, S., Deilami, S. & Taghizadeh, S. Floating solar PV and hydropower in Australia: feasibility, future investigations and challenges. In 2021 31st Australasian Universities Power Engineering Conference (AUPEC) (eds. Rajakaruna, S., Siada, A. A., et al.) 1–5 (IEEE, 2021).
Rahman, M. W., Mahmud, M. S., Ahmed, R., Rahman, M. S. & Arif, M. Z. Solar lanes and floating solar PV: new possibilities for source of energy generation in Bangladesh. In 2017 Innovations in Power and Advanced Computing Technologies (i-PACT) 1–6 (IEEE, 2017).
Padilha Campos Lopes, M., de Andrade Neto, S., Alves Castelo Branco, D., Vasconcelos de Freitas, M. A. & da Silva Fidelis, N. Water–energy nexus: floating photovoltaic systems promoting water security and energy generation in the semiarid region of Brazil. J. Clean. Prod. 273, 122010 (2020).
Fereshtehpour, M., Javidi Sabbaghian, R., Farrokhi, A., Jovein, E. B. & Ebrahimi Sarindizaj, E. Evaluation of factors governing the use of floating solar system: a study on Iran’s important water infrastructures. Renew. Energy 171, 1171–1187 (2021).
Nagananthini, R. & Nagavinothini, R. Investigation on floating photovoltaic covering system in rural Indian reservoir to minimize evaporation loss. Int. J. Sustain. Energy 40, 781–805 (2021).
Sukarso, A. P. & Kim, K. N. Cooling effect on the floating solar PV: performance and economic analysis on the case of West Java province in Indonesia. Energies 13, 2126 (2020).
Jamalludin, M. A. S. et al. Potential of floating solar technology in Malaysia. Int. J. Power Electron. Drive Syst. 10, 1638–1644 (2019).
Dellosa, J. & Palconit, E. V. Resource assessment of a floating solar photovoltaic (FSPV) system with artificial intelligence applications in Lake Mainit, Philippines. Eng. Technol. Appl. Sci. Res. 12, 8410–8415 (2022).
Sapthanakorn, P. & Salakij, S. Evaluating the potential of using floating solar photovoltaic on 12 reservoirs of Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand hydropower plants. In 2021 International Conference on Smart City and Green Energy (ICSCGE) 41–45 (IEEE, 2021).
Sutton, M. The UK’s Floating Photovoltaic (FPV) Potential (Pagerpower, 2020); https://www.pagerpower.com/news/the-uks-floating-photovoltaic-fpv-potential/
Spencer, R. S., Macknick, J., Aznar, A., Warren, A. & Reese, M. O. Floating photovoltaic systems: assessing the technical potential of photovoltaic systems on man-made water bodies in the continental United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 53, 1680–1689 (2019).
Lee, N. et al. Hybrid floating solar photovoltaics–hydropower systems: benefits and global assessment of technical potential. Renew. Energy 162, 1415–1427 (2020).
McKuin, B. et al. Energy and water co-benefits from covering canals with solar panels. Nat. Sustain. 4, 609–617 (2021).
Liber, W. et al. Statewide Potential Study for the Implementation of Floating Solar Photovoltaic Arrays (Colorado Energy Office, 2020).
Andrews, R. W., Stein, J. S., Hansen, C. & Riley, D. Introduction to the open source PV LIB for python photovoltaic system modelling package. In 2014 IEEE 40th Photovoltaic Specialist Conference (PVSC) 0170–0174 (IEEE, 2014).
Ranjbaran, P., Yousefi, H., Gharehpetian, G. B. & Astaraei, F. R. A review on floating photovoltaic (FPV) power generation units. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 110, 332–347 (2019).
Liu, B. et al. Optimal power peak shaving using hydropower to complement wind and solar power uncertainty. Energy Convers. Manag. 209, 112628 (2020).
Thorpe, D. How Cities Can Generate Their Own Clean Energy and Create Jobs and Income (Smartcities Dive, 2017); https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/how-cities-can-generate-their-own-energy-and-create-jobs-and-income/288521/
Mothilal Bhagavathy, S. & Pillai, G. PV microgrid design for rural electrification. Designs 2, 33 (2018).
Das, K. & Jain, P. Floatovoltaic microgrids: new possibilities of decentralizing water–energy sector in India. Eng. Technol. 8, 9 (2020).
Gleick, P. H. Water use. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 28, 275–314 (2003).
Nkiaka, E., Okpara, U. T. & Okumah, M. Food–energy–water security in sub-Saharan Africa: quantitative and spatial assessments using an indicator-based approach. Environ. Dev. 40, 100655 (2021).
International Energy Outlook (US Energy Information Administration, 2021).
Hydropower (International Energy Agency, 2021).
Net Zero by 2050 (International Energy Agency, 2021).
Global Energy Transformation: The REmap Transition Pathway (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2019).
Gibson, L., Wilman, E. N. & Laurance, W. F. How green is ‘green’ energy? Trends Ecol. Evol. 32, 922–935 (2017).
Gadzanku, S., Lee, N. & Dyreson, A. Enabling Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FPV) Deployment: Exploring the Operational Benefits of Floating Solar–Hydropower Hybrids (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2022).
Zhou, Y. et al. An advanced complementary scheme of floating photovoltaic and hydropower generation flourishing water–food–energy nexus synergies. Appl. Energy 275, 115389 (2020).
Hancook, E. New Floating Solar Study Demonstrates Water Quality Improvements (PV-Tech, 2021); https://www.pv-tech.org/new-floating-solar-study-demonstrates-water-quality-improvements/
Château, P.-A. et al. Mathematical modeling suggests high potential for the deployment of floating photovoltaic on fish ponds. Sci. Total Environ. 687, 654–666 (2019).
Pimentel Da Silva, G. D. & Branco, D. A. C. Is floating photovoltaic better than conventional photovoltaic? Assessing environmental impacts. Impact Assess. Proj. Apprais. 36, 390–400 (2018).
Floating Solar PV on Dam Reservoirs: The Opportunities and the Challenges (Solar-Hydro, 2021).
Guidelines of the Ministry of Water Resources on Strengthening Shoreline Space Control of River and Lake Waters (in Chinese) (Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China, 2022); http://finance.people.com.cn/n1/2022/0531/c1004-32434787.html
Feron, S., Cordero, R. R., Damiani, A. & Jackson, R. B. Climate change extremes and photovoltaic power output. Nat. Sustain. 4, 270–276 (2020).
Dutta, R., Chanda, K. & Maity, R. Future of solar energy potential in a changing climate across the world: a CMIP6 multi-model ensemble analysis. Renew. Energy 188, 819–829 (2022).
Hou, X., Wild, M., Folini, D., Kazadzis, S. & Wohland, J. Climate change impacts on solar power generation and its spatial variability in Europe based on CMIP6. Earth Syst. Dyn. 12, 1099–1113 (2021).
Lehner, B. et al. High-resolution mapping of the world’s reservoirs and dams for sustainable river-flow management. Front. Ecol. Environ. 9, 494–502 (2011).
Wang, J. et al. GeoDAR: georeferenced global dam and reservoir dataset for bridging attributes and geolocations. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 14, 1869–1899 (2022).
OpenStreetMap (OpenStreetMap, 2021); www.openstreetmap.org
CERES and GEO-Enhanced TOA, Within-Atmosphere and Surface Fluxes, Clouds and Aerosols 1-Hourly Terra-Aqua Edition4A (NASA Langley Atmospheric Science Data Center DAAC, 2017); https://doi.org/10.5067/TERRA+AQUA/CERES/SYN1DEG-1HOUR_L3.004A
Muñoz Sabater, J. ERA5-Land Hourly Data from 1981 to Present (Copernicus Climate Change Service Climate Data Store, 2019).
Tina, G. M., Bontempo Scavo, F., Merlo, L. & Bizzarri, F. Comparative analysis of monofacial and bifacial photovoltaic modules for floating power plants. Appl. Energy 281, 116084 (2021).
Whittaker, T., Folley, M. & Hancock, J. in Floating PV Plants (eds. Rosa-Clot, M. and Tina, G. M.) 47–66 (Elsevier, 2020).
Micheli, L. Energy and economic assessment of floating photovoltaics in Spanish reservoirs: cost competitiveness and the role of temperature. Sol. Energy 227, 625–634 (2021).
Mathijssen, D. et al. Potential impact of floating solar panels on water quality in reservoirs; pathogens and leaching. Water Pract. Technol. 15, 807–811 (2020).
Kim, K. Real options analysis for the investment of floating photovoltaic project in Saemangeum. Korean J. Constr. Eng. Manag. 22, 90–97 (2021).
Global Energy Review 2021 (International Energy Agency, 2021).
Shiu, A. & Lam, P.-L. Electricity consumption and economic growth in China. Energy Policy 8, 47–54 (2004).
GADM Database of Global Administrative Areas, Version 2.0 (Global Collaboration Engine, 2012); www.gadm.org
LandScan Global 2019 (Oak Ridge National Laboraotry, 2020); https://landscan.ornl.gov/
Kummu, M., Taka, M. & Guillaume, J. H. A. Data from: Gridded global datasets for gross domestic product and human development index over 1990–2015. Dryad https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.dk1j0 (2020).
Harris, I., Osborn, T. J., Jones, P. & Lister, D. Version 4 of the CRU TS monthly high-resolution gridded multivariate climate dataset. Sci. Data 7, 109 (2020).
Yang, Y., Roderick, M. L., Zhang, S., McVicar, T. R. & Donohue, R. J. Hydrologic implications of vegetation response to elevated CO2 in climate projections. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 44–48 (2019).
Shuttleworth, W. J. Handbook of Hydrology (ed. Maidment, D. R.) Ch. 4 (McGraw-Hill Education, 1993).
Allen, R. G., Pereira, L. S., Raes, D. & Smith, M. Crop Evapotranspiration: Guidelines for Computing Crop Water Requirements FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper No. 56 (FAO, 1998).
Gadzanku, S., Mirletz, H., Lee, N., Daw, J. & Warren, A. Benefits and critical knowledge gaps in determining the role of floating photovoltaics in the energy–water–food nexus. Sustainability 13, 4317 (2021).
Kumar, M. & Kumar, A. Performance assessment of different photovoltaic technologies for canal-top and reservoir applications in subtropical humid climate. IEEE J. Photovolt. 9, 722–732 (2019).
Kandananond, K. Forecasting electricity demand in Thailand with an artificial neural network approach. Energies 4, 1246–1257 (2011).
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants no. 42071022 and no. 72173058), the start-up fund provided by Southern University of Science and Technology (no. 29/Y01296122), and the SUSTech Energy Institute for Carbon Neutrality. We are grateful to Z. Zhang for the insightful comments and valuable discussions on the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information
Nature Sustainability thanks Giuseppe Tina, Fi-John Chang, Manish Kumar and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Supplementary Figs. 1–9 and Supplementary Tables 1 and 2.
Supplementary Data 1
Details of FPV potential in cities.
Rights and permissions
Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.
About this article
Cite this article
Jin, Y., Hu, S., Ziegler, A.D. et al. Energy production and water savings from floating solar photovoltaics on global reservoirs. Nat Sustain (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-023-01089-6