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Using our water storages as floating solar energy factories

Hunter Water is considering the possibility of using floating solar farms on some of its water storage sites as part of its research into how we can meet our future energy needs and reduce our carbon footprint.

This project, led by the organisation’s Sustainable Wastewater program, is part of the development of a carbon and energy strategy to put Hunter Water on the right path towards our aspirational goal of becoming carbon neutral. Hunter Water has current total emissions of 92,967 tonnes of CO2-e per year – the equivalent of 20,210 passenger vehicles driven for a year.

Floating solar farms not only produce renewable energy, they can also reduce water losses from evaporation, and keep our land holdings free for other uses. On a hot day, we lose just as much water through evaporation from our storages as is consumed by the whole Lower Hunter, which can be up to 160 million litres per day.

But floating solar comes with its own challenges. Not only does it have to be economically viable – technical issues such as anchoring need to be considered. It also has to be environmentally friendly and ensure the water quality within our water storages is protected.

The initial phase of the research considers a range of installations from 1 megawatt (MW) up to 100 MW at our wastewater treatment ponds, and possibly on Grahamstown Dam.

David Derkenne, Hunter Water’s Program Director for Sustainable Wastewater, is very excited about the research: “This project has the potential to provide a number of significant benefits to Hunter Water’s customers and the environment. Not only does floating solar provide a renewable source of energy and help us on our way to becoming carbon neutral, it could also help reduce water losses from our drinking water system.”

Results of this research and the viability of using floating solar panels will be known by the end of the year.

Photo: Australia’s largest floating solar installation on East Lismore’s sewage treatment plant, in NSW.
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