Floating solar: a solution for the sustainable development in Africa

A study highlights the FPV's potential to support and replace hydropower in the energy transition

Floating solar photovoltaics (FPV) can be a solution to boost renewable energy in Africa’s future energy mix, while minimizing ecosystem and community impacts. This discover is the result of a work carried out by researchers from the Environmental Intelligence Lab led by Prof. Andrea Castelletti at Politecnico di Milano.

The study, published in Nature Energy, is among the first to explore the FPV at the continental scale, finding that FPV installed at existing major reservoirs could produce 20-100% of the electricity expected from Africa’s planned hydropower dams. 

By embracing floating solar and reducing the reliance on hydropower, developing economies can ensure a more stable energy supply that is robust to hydrological uncertainties brought about by climate change. Moreover, floating solar avoids many of the negative impacts new dams may have on downstream communities and river ecosystems.

said Prof. Andrea Castelletti.

The researchers conducted a detailed case study on the transboundary Zambezi watercourse, finding that the capital investment slated for new dam projects could be deployed more efficiently by building fewer reservoirs and supplementing the energy supply with floating solar. 

The work highlights the importance of integrated resource planning and considering transboundary impacts when navigating sustainable development pathways.

Our findings suggest the benefits of avoiding new dams through strategic floating solar deployments could outweigh the potential impacts on existing reservoir uses like fishing or recreation, but a collective effort is still needed to continue improving FPV technology and ensure its responsible deployment through robust integrated planning and stakeholder engagement processes.

said Matteo Giuliani, researcher at Politecnico di Milano.

While the environmental case for FPV is compelling, the authors acknowledge technical and social factors that may constrain its adoption at certain sites. However, they argue these potential impacts would be far less severe than those of new hydropower dam construction and reservoirs that can irreversibly disrupt river ecology, displace communities, and exacerbate regional tensions over shared water resources.

To find out more
The study published online
Green Deal @polimi