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Energy production and water savings from floating solar photovoltaics on global reservoirs


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.

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Fig. 1: Global potential for annual FPV generation.
Fig. 2: Comparison of FPV generation potential and electricity demand in cities with 30% reservoir coverage (not exceeding 30 km2).
Fig. 3: Estimated global water savings from FPV development with 30% reservoir coverage (not exceeding 30 km2).

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Data availability

The solar radiation data are available at; the temperature and wind speed data are available at!/dataset/reanalysis-era5-land?tab=overview; the GRanD database is available at; the GeoDAR data are available at; the latest global reservoir database from OSM can be extracted from; the electricity demand data for countries are available at; the GADM data are available at; the global population distribution data from LandScan are available at; the gridded global datasets for GDP are available at; and the CRU data are available at The data that support the findings of this study are also available from the corresponding author upon request.

Code availability

The scripts used to generate all the results are written in MATLAB (R2022a). All data and code are available at


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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.

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Conceptualization, funding acquisition, project administration and supervision was carried out by Z.Z. Methodology was carried out by Y.J., Z.Z., S.H. and R.X. Investigation was carried out by Y.J. and S.H. Visualization was carried out by Y.J. Y.J. and A.D.Z. wrote the original draft. All authors contributed to interpreting results, and writing and editing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Zhenzhong Zeng.

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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.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–9 and Supplementary Tables 1 and 2.

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Supplementary Data 1

Details of FPV potential in cities.

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Jin, Y., Hu, S., Ziegler, A.D. et al. Energy production and water savings from floating solar photovoltaics on global reservoirs. Nat Sustain 6, 865–874 (2023).

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