Feature Story | 9-Aug-2023

Can floating solar panels be a sustainable energy solution in New York?

Cornell University

Media note: Interviews and a tour of the ponds are available upon request. Images of the solar ponds are available for download and use here.

Since mid-June, Cornell University ecologist Steve Grodsky and a small group of students have linked 378 solar panels and 1,600 floats – by hand, one-at-a-time – across three ponds at the Cornell Experimental Pond Facility, adjacent to the Ithaca airport.

The three-year project is funded by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and will study the impact of solar panels on pond ecological systems.

“We need renewable energy to mitigate climate change and we need room to grow food,” said principal investigator Grodsky. “If we cover lakes and reservoirs with solar panels, how can we do it in a smart, sustainable way? That’s what we’re going to find out.”

Specifically, the project will examine how floating solar panels affect the abiotic and biotic parts of the pond water. It will explore how fish, snails, crayfish, aquatic plants, and other organisms fare in the water. The researchers will track greenhouse gas emissions of the ponds, see how algae growth is affected in the summer, and listen to the bioacoustics within the pond.

This research comes as Washington is gaining interest in water-borne solar panels. Last December, congressmen Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Jared Huffman (D-California) introduced the “Protect our Waters and Expand Renewables on our Reservoirs Act,” known as the “POWER our Reservoirs Act which aims to advance clean energy production on federal water reservoirs and examine the deployment of floating solar to create renewable energy. This research team wants to see how that can be done sustainably.

“It’s not about slowing down renewable energy development; it’s about incorporating scientific rigor to make the deployment of floating solar development more sustainable,” Grodsky said. “If we dive right in, we may find unintended consequences down the road. We need renewable energy to mitigate climate change, but how can we do it in a smart, sustainable way?”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story. 

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews.

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