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Many countries bet on solar panels when engaging in the switch to cleaner energy. But the technology requires much larger areas than conventional fossil fuel plants to generate the same amount of electricity. An emerging solution to save space is to float the panels on bodies of water, an approach dubbed “floatovoltaics.” Scientists believe this new approach could help solar energy to scale globally and fight climate change, but its environmental impacts are largely unexplored.
The world’s first commercial floatovoltaic system was installed on an irrigation pond at a California winery in 2008. Since then, bigger plants with capacities in the hundreds of megawatts have been built on lakes and hydropower reservoirs in China, and more are planned in Southeast Asia and Brazil.