PANAMA CITY – The Panama Canal is looking to floating solar panels as part of a green push aimed at protecting the interoceanic waterway’s hydrographic basin.
The installation of solar farms often involves cutting down trees, a practice that would threaten the canal’s hydrographic basin, where water is stored for the waterway’s operations and also to supply residents of Panama City.
“It makes no sense to cut down trees to install a solar plant. The canal has plenty of lakes, and besides solar panels are more efficient when they float on water,” said Lucas Rojas, an electrical engineer at the canal.
Photovoltaic panels can generate up to 20 percent more electricity when placed on floating structures because water is a coolant that increases the panels’ efficiency, different studies show.
“There’s no similar project in countries with a tropical climate, although they’re very en vogue in Asian countries and in Europe. We could say we’re pioneers in Latin America,” Rojas said.
In June, China inaugurated the world’s largest floating solar farm in the eastern mining province of Anhui, a facility capable of producing 40 megawatts of power and supplying electricity to some 15,000 homes.
The Panama Canal solar installation consists of 96 panels located near the Miraflores Locks on the waterway’s Pacific side.
Only 88 panels have been connected thus far, generating 22 kilowatts that power a small workshop used to repair some of the canal’s tugboats.
But engineers are working on a bigger project that must be approved by the Panama Canal Authority’s board of directors and would involve construction of a solar plant covering an area of 10 hectares (25 acres) and generating 10 megawatts of electricity that would be directly fed into the waterway’s grid.