A new photovoltaic ﬂoating cover system for water reservoirs Carlos Ferrer-Gisbert a , José J. Ferrán-Gozálvez a , Miguel Redón-Santafé a, * , Pablo Ferrer-Gisbert b , Francisco J. Sánchez-Romero a , Juan Bautista Torregrosa-Soler a a Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Departamento de Ingeniería Rural y Agroalimentaria, Camino de Vera s/n, 46022 Valencia, Spain b Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Departamento de Proyectos de Ingeniería, Camino de Vera s/n, 46022 Valencia, Spain article info Article history: Received 10 May 2012 Accepted 12 April 2013 Available online 14 May 2013 Keywords: Photovoltaic ﬂoating cover Water reservoirs Evaporation water losses abstract This paper describes a new photovoltaic ﬂoating cover system for water reservoirs developed jointly by the company CELEMIN ENERGY and the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. The system consists of polyethylene ﬂoating modules which, with the use of tension producing elements and elastic fasteners, are able to adapt to varying reservoir water levels. A full-scale plant located near Alicante (Spain) was built in an agriculture reservoir to study the behaviour of the system. The top of the reservoir has a surface area of 4700 m 2 but only 7% of such area has been covered with the ﬁxed solar system. The system also minimizes evaporation losses from water reservoirs. Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction Nowadays, farmers’ income is strongly affected by the electricity costs. High production costs, small farm size, competitive interna- tional markets and the water deﬁcit are the main causes that characterize the difﬁcult situation of the Spanish agriculture. The demand for energy is to increase in the agriculture industry as a consequence of the greater use of the water resources and the modernization plans carried out in the last decades. The installation of more efﬁcient irrigation systems has led to water savings; however, power consumption has grown because of increasing pumping needs and ﬁlter operations. So, although water efﬁciency has improved in the agriculture sector, electric power demand has increased substantially. Upward revisions of the electricity rates and uncertain future scenarios adversely affect the price of water. The solutions to these problems come not only from setting special electricity rates for irrigation but also from improving the energy and water efﬁciency of the irrigation systems. Renewable energy sources emerge as a way to counter-balance such situations. The new irrigation plans involve the transformation of traditional systems into pressurized systems. In most cases, this modernization has demanded the construction of water reservoirs. Among the different storage systems available, earth reservoirs waterproofed with geomembranes are the most widely used solution. In arid and semi-arid climates, water stored in reservoirs would be better managed if evaporation losses from the water surface were reduced. In this sense, Bengoechea et al.  studied the water evapo- ration rate in agricultural water reservoirs in the south of Spain (Almeria) and estimated that water losses by evaporation in farms amounted to 17 percent. Martinez et al.  estimated water losses of 60 hm 3 for the Segura Basin (Murcia, Spain), which means more than 8% of the available water supply for irrigation purposes. Craig et al.  suggested that evaporation phenomena in agricultural reservoirs in Queensland (Australia) were the cause of a total water loss of 1000 hm 3 , i.e. about 40 percent of its total storage capacity. Gökbulak et al.  made similar studies from lakes and dams in Turkey and estimated potential water savings of more than 20%. The above results highlight that the evaporative losses from water storages at both the farm and the regional scales can be large. Thereby, the assessment of such losses and the development of evaporation mitigation techniques are crucial for preserving the limited water resources [5e7]. In the last decades, several evaporation control products were developed to control evaporation losses from water reservoirs . These products range from ﬂoating covers, modular covers, shade structures, chemical monolayer covers and biological and design methods. Craig et al.  highlighted the good performance of me- chanical methods, either ﬂoating systems or suspended shade structures. The evaporation reduction achieved with such systems is around 80%. * Corresponding author. E-mail address: [email protected](M. Redón-Santafé). Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Renewable Energy journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/renene 0960-1481/$ e see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2013.04.007 Renewable Energy 60 (2013) 63e70
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Renewable Energy 60 (2013) 63e70
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A new photovoltaic floating cover system for water reservoirs
Carlos Ferrer-Gisbert a, José J. Ferrán-Gozálvez a, Miguel Redón-Santafé a,*,Pablo Ferrer-Gisbert b, Francisco J. Sánchez-Romero a, Juan Bautista Torregrosa-Soler a
aUniversidad Politécnica de Valencia, Departamento de Ingeniería Rural y Agroalimentaria, Camino de Vera s/n, 46022 Valencia, SpainbUniversidad Politécnica de Valencia, Departamento de Proyectos de Ingeniería, Camino de Vera s/n, 46022 Valencia, Spain
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:Received 10 May 2012Accepted 12 April 2013Available online 14 May 2013
Keywords:Photovoltaic floating coverWater reservoirsEvaporation water losses
0960-1481/$ e see front matter � 2013 Elsevier Ltd.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2013.04.007
a b s t r a c t
This paper describes a new photovoltaic floating cover system for water reservoirs developed jointly bythe company CELEMIN ENERGY and the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. The system consists ofpolyethylene floating modules which, with the use of tension producing elements and elastic fasteners,are able to adapt to varying reservoir water levels.
A full-scale plant located near Alicante (Spain) was built in an agriculture reservoir to study thebehaviour of the system. The top of the reservoir has a surface area of 4700 m2 but only 7% of such areahas been covered with the fixed solar system.
The system also minimizes evaporation losses from water reservoirs.� 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Nowadays, farmers’ income is strongly affected by the electricitycosts. High production costs, small farm size, competitive interna-tional markets and the water deficit are the main causes thatcharacterize the difficult situation of the Spanish agriculture.
The demand for energy is to increase in the agriculture industryas a consequence of the greater use of the water resources and themodernization plans carried out in the last decades. The installationof more efficient irrigation systems has led to water savings;however, power consumption has grown because of increasingpumping needs and filter operations. So, although water efficiencyhas improved in the agriculture sector, electric power demand hasincreased substantially. Upward revisions of the electricity ratesand uncertain future scenarios adversely affect the price of water.
The solutions to these problems come not only from settingspecial electricity rates for irrigation but also from improving theenergy and water efficiency of the irrigation systems. Renewableenergy sources emerge as away to counter-balance such situations.
The new irrigation plans involve the transformation of traditionalsystems into pressurized systems. In most cases, this modernizationhas demanded the construction of water reservoirs. Among thedifferent storage systems available, earth reservoirs waterproofedwith geomembranes are the most widely used solution.
All rights reserved.
In arid and semi-arid climates, water stored in reservoirs wouldbe better managed if evaporation losses from the water surfacewere reduced.
In this sense, Bengoechea et al.  studied the water evapo-ration rate in agricultural water reservoirs in the south of Spain(Almeria) and estimated that water losses by evaporation in farmsamounted to 17 percent. Martinez et al.  estimated water lossesof 60 hm3 for the Segura Basin (Murcia, Spain), which means morethan 8% of the available water supply for irrigation purposes. Craiget al.  suggested that evaporation phenomena in agriculturalreservoirs in Queensland (Australia) were the cause of a totalwater loss of 1000 hm3, i.e. about 40 percent of its total storagecapacity. Gökbulak et al.  made similar studies from lakes anddams in Turkey and estimated potential water savings of morethan 20%.
The above results highlight that the evaporative losses fromwater storages at both the farm and the regional scales can be large.Thereby, the assessment of such losses and the development ofevaporation mitigation techniques are crucial for preserving thelimited water resources [5e7].
In the last decades, several evaporation control products weredeveloped to control evaporation losses from water reservoirs .These products range from floating covers, modular covers, shadestructures, chemical monolayer covers and biological and designmethods. Craig et al.  highlighted the good performance of me-chanical methods, either floating systems or suspended shadestructures. The evaporation reduction achieved with such systemsis around 80%.
C. Ferrer-Gisbert et al. / Renewable Energy 60 (2013) 63e7064
Moreover the use of floating covers provides other benefits like:
� lower filtering costs (by controlling sunlight and watertemperature),
� much longer duration of the geomembranes,� reduced silt accumulation.
But there is a lack of technical studies about cover systems forirrigation reservoirs. Although in Spain a standard for reservoircovers has been recently published , its scope is for systemsbased on geomembranes (not on floating ones) and it focuses onthe execution process, not on system design.
However, latest trends show an increasing interest for devel-oping membrane and spatial structures to minimise water evapo-ration [10,11].
The Photovoltaic Floating Cover System (PFCS) described in thispaper is the synergic response to the issues mentioned above and ishighly innovative in today’s agriculture sustainability. On the onehand, an evaporation mitigation technology is applied into agri-cultural water reservoirs. On the other hand, the production ofclean energy is envisaged as a means of balance the electricity costseither exporting the electricity back to the grid or enabling togenerate power for self-consumption .
The solution consists of a continuous platform placed above thewater level by replicating a floating module which acts as thesupport of the photovoltaic panels. To our knowledge, no detailedstudies assessing the performance of a photovoltaic coveringsystem for reservoirs have been published to date. Also, a dis-tinguishing element of the present system is that covers the wholearea of the reservoir (bottom surface and upstream slope areas).
2. Key design elements
The primary purpose of the PFCS is to improve water and powerefficiency of agricultural irrigation reservoirs as illustrated in Fig. 1.The water surface is covered with a number of floating moduleswhich are joined together bymeans of pins. Incident solar radiationis used to produce renewable energy. Additionally, properlydesigned reservoir cover systems prevent fluid loss due to evapo-ration and by blocking off sunlight they prevent algae bloom.
The key design factors affecting the performance of the systemare:
� Good structural performance of the floating platform as apartially submerged body.
� Good structural behaviour of the reservoir and floating cover asa whole.
Fig. 1. Water & energy balance: a) Uncovered rese
� Ability to adapt to varying reservoir water levels and reservoirlayouts.
� Meeting the PV installation requirements.� Minimizing in-situ work during construction and exploitation.
In summary, the primary purpose of the system is to meet thewater requirements of the reservoir while maximizing powerproduction.
2.1. Suitability assessment of the reservoir layout
Floating cover systems require site specific planning and designto be successful. Most reservoir designs are irregular in order tobetter fit land topography. Moreover, both the reservoir’s walls andthe different design layouts for the internal 3D geometry of thereservoir are highly variable. As a consequence, the geometry of thefloating module has to be versatile enough to properly adapt todifferent internal geometries of the water reservoir.
2.2. Geometry of the floating module
The floating module’s geometry was designed taking into ac-count twomain issues. First, the dimensions of the module must beadapted to commercial photovoltaic panels. Second, the modulesmust cover the maximum possible water surface to prevent waterevaporation.
The solar issues under analysis were: photovoltaic panel di-mensions and tilt angle, number of units to be installed, distancebetween panel rows to prevent shade effects and access ways toease operational maintenance.
Several configurations and geometries of the floating modulewere studied before selecting the design presented in Fig. 2, whichcomprises two 1.6 � 1.0 m/200 Wp panels and a 0.5 m access way.
For the latitude of the field site (Agost, Alicante province, Spain),30� is the optimal tilt angle for the fix solar panels to maximizeenergy production. However the shade analysis for the prototypeinstalled in the reservoir named “El Negret”, revealed (Table 1) thatlower tilt angles not only provided better electrical performance butalso amore regularmodule geometry. As the tilt angle of the FV arraydecreases, it is needed a shorter distance between row lines of PVpanels to prevent interactive shadows. As a result, a more homoge-neousmodule gridwas obtained. Besides, low tilt angles significantlyreduced the effects of wind uplift and drifting. Sincewind forces playan important role in the structural behaviour of the system, the useof low tilt angles will improve the global performance of the system.Also, Table 1 shows the energy yield obtained from meteorologicaldata and a global performance ratio of 0.75.
rvoir. b) Photovoltaic Floating Cover System.
Fig. 2. Layout of the floating module.
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2.3. Orientation of the photovoltaic panels
The layout shown in Fig. 3 illustrates a particular case of areservoir. First, the main axes of the cover (key directions of thefloating modules) were determined taking into consideration thesouth cardinal and the direction of the reservoir slopes.
The reservoir shown in Fig. 3 has a rather rectangular geometry;moreover, the main longitudinal axes of the reservoir are alignedwith the cardinal directions, so the solar panels faced south.However, such configuration will not be suitable for other siteswhere the slope’s alignment of the reservoir does not fit the southorientation. Therefore, in such cases, the PV panels will be installedwith higher deviations from the south direction since the directionsof the reservoir slopes will always prevail over power production toachieve a good coupling of the whole platform inside the reservoir.Therefore, the successive rows of PV panels uniformly lean abovethe slope as the water level of the reservoir decreases withoutintroducing biaxial forces and torsion stresses between modules.
As a result, there would be reservoirs where the main alignmentsof the platforms are no directly orientated to south. However, Table 2compares the global irradiation expressed in equivalent sun hours ofthe system for a tilt angle of 10�, latitude of 38� (prototype reservoirconditions) and azimuth rotation between 0 and 60�. As can be seen,azimuth variations are not relevant when using low tilt angles sincethe losses of irradiation are not significant.
3. Description of the system
The cover consists of a floating module, sized 2.35 � 2.35 m,which is used as a frame for supporting a grid of units. Eachmoduleis joined to its adjacent ones with a metallic pin-anchorage. Theplatforms are fix-moored on the top of the reservoir.
The system can be applied to any water storage structure notexposed to heavy wave forces (ponds, tanks, reservoirs, lagoons,etc). However, the system described in this paper was designed tobe used in agricultural reservoirs.
3.1. Floating modules
The pontoon is the key element of the system. It has to ensurethe stability and buoyancy of the system and it is the basis of the
Table 1Number of photovoltaic units and power installed depending on the tilt angle.
Tilt angle Number of floatingmodules (2 PV panels)
photovoltaic plant. As shown in Fig. 4, the module was designed toaccommodate two standard solar panels with a tilt angle of 10� anda 0.5 m access way located behind the upper side of the panels. It isshaped like a boat consisting of two hulls separated by an upperplatform. The three main elements form a single square unit of2.35 m � 2.35 m and a height of 0.40 m. After considering severalalternatives, the material selected was medium density poly-ethylene made by rotomoulding.
The two hulls have a trapezoidal section and a draft of 0.2 m.They were placed longitudinally on the bottom of the pontoon.A slack and smooth contact between themodule and the reservoir’sgeomembrane is needed to ensure excellent resistance to punc-tures . The bottom of the trapezoidal hulls is thin and withrounded edges.
On the other hand, the technical requirements of the upper sideof the pontoon are different from those of the bottom. The platformmust resist several design loads, such as dead and live loads andwind uplift and drifting, so that it must be stiffer. The top side of themodule consists of several rectangular gutters. As can be seen inFig. 4, these elements divide the platform into smaller units thatimprove the stiffness and the load bearing capacity of the system.
This configuration enables the installation of the horizontal steelframewhich supports the solar panels. Also, the horizontal frame isa linking element that distributes the structural forces among themodules. Some additional gutters are used for the electrical wiring.
Finally, and in order to improve the stiffness and stability of thepontoon, both sides are attached by four vertical hollow cone-shaped columns. Such supports are symmetrically placed on thegutter’s intersection.
On each side of the floating module there is a half-cylinder boss.The horizontal steel frame is placed vertically above the placewhere the half-cylinders rest.
These elements are built in during the manufacture of themodule and their main role is to join adjacent modules and allowfor the installation of the grid system. Thanks to this mechanism,the whole platform is able to transmit tension forces by means ofthe metallic rods, and compression forces through the contact ofthe plastic half-cylinders. In this way, downward rotation iscontrolled on the vertical plane. However, it is free to rotate up-wards because the contact between successive half-cylinders tendsto separate.
k power installation (kWp) Peak power density(Wp/m2)
Energy yield(kWh/m2 year)
.8 55.46 82.49
.8 65.55 104.27
.2 74.16 114.89
Fig. 3. Cover configuration for a particular case study.
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The aforementioned design features provide a better coupling ofthe system in singular areas of the reservoir such as the bottom andthe internal walls.
Point loads on the platform may cause overlapping betweenadjacent horizontal half-cylinder bosses. To prevent such negativeeffect, vertical bosses are placed at the ends of the horizontal bossesthus limiting differential settlement.
The floating module described meets the design requirements.It is a safe, hollow and airtight element which can be made by therotational molding technique.
3.2. Joints between floating modules
As previously mentioned, the cover layout is formed by a grid ofmodules joined together bymeans of metallic rods. Themechanismconsists of a pinned joint that enables both the transmission ofhorizontal forces and vertical rotations, and allows the fitting of thecover to the geometry of the reservoir.
3.3. Elastic joints
The elastic joints enable the opening of the cover. In this way,the system can easily adapt to varying reservoir water levels. Whenthe reservoir is empty, the longitudinal slope is longer than thesurface of the full reservoir. To solve this problem, a number ofelastic joints are placed along the main axes of the reservoir.
In the case of full reservoir, the elastic joints remain closed andthe system practically covers the entire water surface. However,when the reservoir is empty, the elastic joints are completelyopened and the system covers the internal walls of the reservoir.The grid of modules can adjust to any situation between these twoextremes.
The opening mechanism is almost symmetrical to the mainlongitudinal axis of the reservoir. However, its installation and itsmechanical and geometrical design will depend on the particularfeatures of the site.
The modules situated at the outer cover perimeter are rigidlyfixed to the top of the reservoir as follows.
3.4. Rigid anchorages
A rigid support along the perimeter of the reservoir is needed towithstand the dead loads acting on the reservoir slopes and thelateral forces caused by wind and waves. The anchorage systemdesigned is made up of a pile foundation, a pile cap and a contin-uous perimeter floor.
The piles are placed at spaced intervals all around the reservoir’sperimeter.
4. Digital and real scale prototype
During the engineering design phase, several numerical anddigital models were developed (further details on reference ).After the conceptual design, a real scale prototype was imple-mented in “El Negret” reservoir (Alicante) in order to check thereal performance of the system, assembling process and powercharacterization.
Fig. 4. Floating module.
Fig. 5. Digital model visualization.
Fig. 7. FEM Modelling (Plastic module þ metallic frame).
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4.1. Numerical and digital models
The numerical models served to check the structural behav-iour, buoyancy, mechanical interferences and energy gain ofthe system. The next step consisted in determining the engi-neering specifications of the components for further drawing anddesign .
Conventional methods and computational techniques wereused to check the elements of the system. Digital models of thesystem were also developed as can be seen in Fig. 5.
Fig. 6. Previous models of
The finite element method (FEM) was a key tool used in thedesign of the floating module. The shape complexity of themodule led us to combine Computer Aided Design (CAD) and FEM.The pontoon is made of medium density polyethylene (MDPE).Firstly, Fig. 6 shows the four previous models modelled and ana-lysed to withstand the forces of the system. The main loads actingon the system are summarized below: dead loads, photovoltaicpanels, maintenance live loads, wind pressure and buoyancyforces.
Secondly, the specific design issues of rotomoulding togetherwith the mechanical feedback gained with the four previousmodels enabled the conception of the pontoon consisting on twobasic elements (Fig. 7): an MDPE floating module and a horizontalsteel frame supporting the PV array and loads due to weather
the floating module.
Table 3Estimated cost.
Concept Cost (V)
PlatformPontoons 40,755Pontoons transport 1045Structure 19,855Tensors 3135Screws and rivets 564Assembly 4180Total platform 69,534Foundations and elastic jointsPilot foundation 7000Elastic joints 6000Total covering 82,534“Conventional” costsInverters 19,461Photovoltaic panels 140,000Wiring 19,000Monitoring 2000
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conditions. A rigorous analysis of the structural response of thepontoon was carried out with different thicknesses (3e8 mm) toassess the performance of the pontoon [12,14].
According to plastic design [15e17], a non-linear structuralapproach is performed since: i) Plastic materials exhibit a non-linear behaviour even at small strain values. Additionally, timeand temperature enhance such effect, ii) MDPE undergoes signifi-cant geometric changes under load. So, changing the shape of thestructure changes its stiffness. Therefore, the analytical approachmust fit the geometric characteristics of the model, iii) The com-bined analysis of the plastic module and themetallic frame requiresthe mechanical interaction of two materials with different rheo-logical behaviour.
The thorough parametric study determined a minimum thick-ness of 4 mm to meet the strength and deformation plastic con-ditions . Meanwhile, the rigid frame is made from cold-formedsteel profiles with UF-60�3 sections.
Security 7000Engineering 8300Health and safety on site 2000Quality control 800Total 198,561Overheads (15%) 42,164Industrial profit (6%) 16,866Total costs 340,126
4.2. Real prototype
Around 7% of the water surface of the reservoir named “ElNegret” (Fig. 8) was used as a real scale prototype in order to checkthe behaviour of the system and make the appropriate technicaland experimental changes.
The reservoir is located in Agost, a town near Alicante (East ofSpain). The earth reservoir was covered with a high density poly-ethylene (HDPE) geomembrane. The reservoir has a slope section of2.8 Horizontal/1.00 Vertical, maximum slope height of 5 m andmaximum water storage capacity of 20,000 m3.
The prototype was installed in August 2009 and up to now itsglobal performance has been highly satisfactory. For a peak powerof 22.27 kWp the yearly energy yield was 28,349 kWh which cor-responds to a performance ratio of 71.45%.
The in-situ performance of the system has served to verify thefeasibility of the solution as well as the following issues:
� Buoyancy conditions and free-draft measures under differentload conditions.
� Efficient support of the modules on the reservoir slope,particularly at critical design points (vertex lines betweenplanes).
� Mechanical behaviour of the system.� Testing of different elastic joints in order to properly defineload-displacement requirements.
� Cost estimation and assembling process.
Fig. 8. Real model.
5. Economic viability
The experience served to estimate the real cost of the elementsof the system. The figures in Table 3 are an illustration of the eco-nomic viability of a 100 kWp system.
The cost of the system is about 30 percent higher than that of aconventional grid-connected PV installation.
With the operation costs showed in Table 4, the profitabilityindex obtained is 9.86%.
Also a financial evaluation has been carried out considering aloan (10 years, 4.5%) for 80% of the investment, and an inflationindex of 3% (Table 5 and Fig. 9).
The Net Present Value (NPV) at 5% is 149,179 V and the InternalRate of Return (IRR) 12.65%. Although, logically, the system is lessprofitable than a conventional grid-connected PV installation, itkeeps being profitable, even without quantifying the watersavings.
6. Final remark
At the time the prototype was developed, the Spanish govern-ment guaranteed revenue of 0.29 Euro/kWh for 25 years, but lateron bonus policy was eliminated. However, due to the continuousincrease of electricity prices and declining prices of PVmodules, theself-consumption is presented as an option increasingly promisingfor our system. In fact, we are focussing our latest research in thisdirection, although Spanish law does not regulate the self-consumption completely yet.
Table 4Operation costs.
Energy production 135,000 kWhGross income 39,150 V/year (0.29 V/kWh)Leasing 1296 V/yearMaintenance 4320 V/year
C. Ferrer-Gisbert et al. / Renewable Energy 60 (2013) 63e70 69
The system is technically feasible and economically viable. Inthe near future, the surface of the reservoir will be totallycovered with the floating system. The photovoltaic plant willbecome a source of income for the reservoir’s owners. Addi-tionally the system will help reduce water losses due toevaporation.
On the other hand, the system also contributes to more sus-tainable land management practices since a pre-existing waterstorage structure is used to install a photovoltaic plant instead ofhaving to change the use of agricultural lands.
The Photovoltaic Floating Cover System (PFCS) described in thispaper can be an efficient solution to certain agro-energetic policiesand issues and to the need for water efficiency tools in the agri-cultural industry.
Wewould like to thank CELEMIN ENERGY S.L. for the confidenceplaced in our research group.
The system described in this text is under patent process.The English revision of this paper was funded by the Uni-
versidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain.
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