I’m a big supporter of creative ideas for reducing our dependence on fossil fuel and producing renewable energy. So I was intrigued when, over the summer, our friends at Inhabitat drew attention to some out-of-the-box thinking that identified an as-yet untapped area on which to deploy solar panels: rivers and streams.
First, they covered ZM Architecture’s award-winning proposal to generate solar power in Glasgow, Scotland, by floating “Solar Lily Pads” on the Clyde River. Calling the idea “a stunning example of biomimicry,” they praised the idea as “perfectly natural, and makes good sense when you consider that the intrinsic design of the lily pad is all about maximizing access to the sun’s rays.”
Less than a month later, Inhabitat highlighted the $4.5 million floating solar array of Far Niente, a California winery. Not wanting to sacrifice any of the arable land on which they grew their grapes, Far Niente mounted their panels on pontoons, and floated them on the winery’s irrigation pond.
I read these posts with interest, but also with conflicting emotions. Technical and implementation difficulties aside, is this really a good idea? Solar’s good, but do we want to start covering over our rivers with panels? We need clean energy, but what about the people who recreate on the water, the rowers and paddlers? Covering ponds with panels is good for irrigation (it slows evaporation) but what’s the impact on wildlife?
I started feeling like the label of biomimicry was being used to install an ugly power generator in a place where it didn’t belong. After all, isn’t a hydroelectric dam just a beaver dam writ large? But at the same time, it’s hard to argue with Far Niente spinning their electric meter backwards while producing great wine. (Though some might think it ironic that they also boast a beautiful classic car collection). And for whatever reason I don’t have a problem with wind turbines, which in many ways reflect the same issues, just up in the air.
So what do you think? Are “Floatovoltaics” an innovative and beautiful idea for producing power? Or are they an ugly and inefficient blight on natural environment? Do you feel the same way about wind turbines? And what role should our personal perceptions of what’s beautiful or not inform our renewable energy policies? Hit us with your thoughts in the comment thread below.