NREL analysis makes a case for floating solar as clean energy solution in Southeast Asia

Floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) has the potential to help countries across Southeast Asia reach their ambitious renewable energy generation goals, according to a first-of-its-kind assessment conducted by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers.

The analysis of FPV potential for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was funded by the laboratory’s partnership with the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Regional Development Mission for Asia.

The report “Enabling Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FPV) Deployment: FPV Technical Potential Assessment for Southeast Asia” estimates the technical potential for the ten ASEAN countries and is coupled with an FPV data set that is publicly accessible through the USAID-NREL Partnership’s Renewable Energy (RE) Data Explorer tool.

According to NREL, for countries with abundant solar resource potential and limited land availability, floating PV, or FPV, has emerged as a potential clean energy solution. While traditional renewable energy sources (solar arrays, wind farms, etc.) are effective types of energy generation, they often come with land-use challenges and concerns. By contrast, FPV arrays are situated on water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs, or water treatment ponds, where they can be installed alone or in combination with hydropower dams.

Even though Southeast Asia is a region with significant existing hydropower infrastructure, some concerns around energy security remain during periods of drought and water scarcity. Solar and hydropower are complementary energy resources, and FPV has the potential to firm up energy generation during periods of drought and low reservoir levels, the analysis shows.

“While we can’t generalize about Southeast Asia as a whole, one thing that is basically universally true of the region is that it has an established network of hydropower generation sites. FPV can support these sources as water levels fluctuate to ensure grid stability,” said Evan Rosenlieb, a geospatial data scientist at NREL who performed the resource and technical potential analysis for this project.

“Additionally, much of the region is covered by rainforest ecosystems,” Rosenlieb said. “Siting PV on water can be a way to increase renewable energy generation without deforestation.”

Furthermore, Southeast Asia is exploring other water-based solutions such as aquaculture—a method of farming where aquatic creatures such as fish, crustaceans, and others are raised in controlled water environments. Such solution sites are seen as unique opportunities for FPV deployment and benefits.

Countries across Southeast Asia have ambitious renewable energy generation goals that FPV can help make a reality, NREL explained. Together, ASEAN has set a target of 35% renewable energy installed power capacity by 2025, which has spurred these countries’ interests in creative solutions, like FPV development.

“FPV is an option that can allow many of these countries to take advantage of high-quality solar resources to combat challenges such as land availability or rugged geographies that can make siting traditional renewable energy sources difficult,” said Sika Gadzanku, the NREL energy technology and policy researcher who led the development of this analysis. “They also offer resilience opportunities in regions that use a lot of hydropower but are facing droughts and significant changes in rainfall patterns.” 

Gadzanku added that Southeast Asia leads FPV deployment, with Thailand emerging as a major player in this space. “Our FPV work has really been demand-driven—several country partners and developers expressed their interest in FPV and in turn, we embarked on our first Southeast Asia-specific FPV analysis four years ago.”

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Building off previous FPV studies, the NREL team used existing data on waterbodies, infrastructure, and energy resources to determine which waterbodies showed the highest potential for FPV development. The study found that all the ASEAN countries have significant potential for FPV energy generation.

As these countries look ahead to begin developing FPV projects, data will be critical for their decision-making. To support developers, policymakers, and other regional stakeholders, the USAID and NREL teams made this technical potential data available through the RE Data Explorer tool, NREL informed

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