Scientists propose floating solar farms to generate clean energy

Floating solar farms could be part of the solution to fighting climate change and dealing with some of our energy needs, according to new research.

Our planet is running out of time to do what is necessary to prevent uncontrollable climate change. Not only do we need to stop using fossil fuels, we need to switch to clean energy sources and find new ones to take their place.

While it will take government action to end the power the fossil fuel industry has over our society, scientists are making huge strides in the area of clean energy.

One such solution to our energy crisis may be solar farms that float on the ocean surface collecting energy used to generate electricity and produce methanol that can be used to replace fuel in airplanes and other vehicles without a net carbon dioxide emission. At least that’s what a study published by the National Academy of Sciences says.

According to NBC News:

The floating solar farms described in the paper would consist of clusters of about 70 circular solar panel “islands” covering an area of roughly one square kilometer (0.4 square mile). Electricity produced by the panels would be used to split water molecules into hydrogen, which would then react with CO2 extracted from seawater to produce methanol.

“This is just one of the many things we should be doing to control climate change, along with having better insulation in our homes, having higher efficiency in car engines and driving electric vehicles,” University of Zurich physicist Bruce Patterson said. “This is just one piece of a mosaic.”

“We’d mostly want to use the fuel in airplanes, long-haul trucks, ships and non-electrified railroad systems,” he said. And seeing as how the solar farms would produce over 15,000 tons of methanol every year, it can certainly be done.

In fact, Patterson went on to note that the carbon dioxide produced by the methanol would be reused to make more.

“Over about a year or a year and a half, it’ll end up in equilibrium again,” he said. “We’ll be able to take it out of the ocean and complete the cycle.”

Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, however, doesn’t think the project would be sufficient.

“Some people think the only problem in the world is to reduce carbon dioxide, but that’s not the problem,”Jacobson said. “The problem is air pollution, energy security and carbon emissions. You have to solve all three of those problems together. This is a solution to a very narrow aspect of the problem, so to me, the idea is misplaced.”

Perhaps, but the situation is becoming dire. Of course we need to shut down the fossil fuel industry and deal with multiple problems. Every good idea, however, should be tried to achieve the best possible outcome. Planting trees is not enough to save us from the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But solar farms could help trees suck it up. That is, if deforestation doesn’t wipe them all out first.

“We have to do something like this if we want to save the planet but still be able to fly airplanes,” Patterson said. “We have to do everything we can to save the planet, and this will hopefully be a small part of it.”

It’s definitely a good idea that could also be used to generate electricity for the masses to help replace fossil fuels. China has already built some floating solar farms so it can definitely be done. We cannot just rely of one clean energy source or another. We need to employ every good idea we can come up with to counter the greatest threat we have ever faced. Solar panels are not a silver bullet to solve all of our problems, but it could be one of many answers that combine to do so. We need to do whatever it takes.

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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