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Korea lets a thousand solar panels bloom in one of the largest floating solar projects

Nestling above the water of a South Korean Reservoir, you’ll find more than 92,000 solar panels in the shape of plum blossoms. The 17 giant flowers rest alongside the twelve-mile mile reservoir in the southern county of Hapcheon. This is one of the largest floating solar plants on earth and offers a glimpse at how land-scarce developed nations can conquer resistance to renewable energy.

Floating solar projects have been gaining momentum in Asia, especially in countries where most available land for large-scale solar farms is given to buildings and agricultural development. South Korea is a bit of a laggard of renewable energy, often falling behind global standards even though their industrialized economy relies on imported fossil fuels. However, these floating solar panels seem to be a gateway for renewable energy in developed nations.

Singapore has begun working on a 60-megawatt-peak plant in the Tengeh Reservoir, and last year Thailand constructed the world’s largest hydro-floating solar hybrid system in the Sirindhorn reservoir.

India also wants a slice of the renewable-energy pie and has plans to complete its massive 600 MW plant above the Omkareshwar dam by 2023.

“Floating solar is increasingly a popular option in countries such as South Korea, where land regulations and pricing as well as local opposition has made it increasingly difficult to build utility-scale projects,”Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, an analyst at BloombergNEF, told Bloomberg News.

Floating solar projects will often benefit from a power grid that’s easier to connect between an existing link from local urban areas or a hydroelectric plant. Currently, the South Korean panels can produce a whopping 41 megawatts, which is enough to power 20,000 homes.

The photovoltaic panels can also restrict algae blooms, while the water can help keep panels feeling cool and refreshed in the face of warmer temperatures.

The reservoir project is also expected to heavily give back to the community where it’s nested. The reservoir is managed by state-run Korea Water Resources Corp, which involved local residents from the start of the project. In fact, It was the community that suggested the panels be in the shape of blossoms to make the project more visually enticing.

The panels provide a renewable energy source and offer the nearby residents jobs during the construction process. The average age of the residents is 60 years old, and many of these citizens rely on their children’s financial support. Thanks to the solar project, many have been given additional financial resources to help close this divide.

On top of jobs, nearly 1,400 residents have invested 3.1 billion won ($2.6 million), or 4% of the panel’s total cost, and are expected to receive a 10% annual return over 20 years.

While the benefits are bountiful for floating solar, many obstacles remain in the way of these projects. Mainly that they are costlier to build. According to the World Bank, floating systems are roughly 18% more expensive than their land-based counterparts. This is due to their need for more resilient components alongside floats and moorings.

South Korea will also have to make continuous efforts to meet its climate objectives. According to the Green Energy Institute, while solar remains South Korea’s leading renewable energy source, the nation will still need at least 375 more gigawatts to reach net zero.

Despite a stack of challenges, South Korea’s President Moon-Jae remains optimistic. At a commissioning ceremony for the plant back in November, Moon-Jae said that floating solar could play a massive role in helping the nation reach its net-zero goal by 2050. The floating solar project is currently projected to add 9.4 gigawatts to the country, equivalent to nine nuclear reactors.

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