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Surprising Science

Japan’s Newest Energy Endeavor: Floating Solar Power Plants

With limited land space and widespread public distrust in nuclear power, the Japanese have taken to the seas to cull energy by installing sprawling solar power plants that float right on the water.

The Fukushima disaster of 2011 understandably destroyed Japanese public confidence in nuclear power. As Jon Major of The Week reports, solar energy was a logical and obvious alternative for helping power the island nation of 127 million people. The problem is that those 127 million people are squeezed into a space spanning only 145,925 sq miles (377,944 km²). Solar panels, by their design, need lots of space. Thus, a conundrum: how do you cull power from solar rays without ample amounts of empty land?

For a country like Japan surrounded by a whole lot of water, the solution was to build solar farms on the surface of the sea.

Jon Major explains:

“Part of the beauty of solar power is how simple it is to use. At a basic level, once you buy the off-the-shelf photovoltaic module, it’s simply a case of plugging it in. The principle engineering challenge of offshore solar farming consists of little more than building a pier and covering it in solar panels.”

Major admits that he’s oversimplifying, but the solar island building process is still quite easy when compared to the construction and safe maintenance of risky offshore oil platforms. Plus, he notes that the coolness of the water actually helps boost the functionality of solar modules.

Assuming Japan sees success from its latest energy venture, it may not be long before we see floating energy fields in the Mediterranean, Great Lakes, or even the English Channel.

Keep reading atThe Week

Photo credit: Ilizia / Shutterstock

For more on the benefits of and obstacles facing the solar revolution, watch the following clip featuring Big Think expert Michio Kaku:


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