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Towards a sustainability assessment framework for floating photovoltaic systems in cities

Testori, Giacomo G.L. (2021) Towards a sustainability assessment framework for floating photovoltaic systems in cities.

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Abstract:Solar energy is the most promising renewable source to promote a sustainable energy transition in cities. Floating photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have recently been applied over inland water bodies to gain advantages in terms of efficiency, economics, and land use. As a matter of fact, applying solar panels above water increases the energy performance, which in turn decreases the payback time of the installation. In addition, floating panels do not require any land, which is a valuable commodity in places characterized by high population density and limited land, like in cities. Nevertheless, floating PV systems have never been installed in an urban environment, meaning that it is not known whether they can promote sustainable energy development in cities. To acquire this knowledge, a sustainability assessment must be carried out, but such a process has never been implemented for floating PV systems. This research project aims to answer the question: How can the sustainability of a floating PV system in an urban neighbourhood be assessed using a decision-support framework and specific methodologies? To tackle this question, this paper develops a new state-of-the-art decision-support framework for assessing the sustainability of floating PV systems in urban areas. Such a framework is presented as a step-by-step conceptual model that consists of three development stages (Planning, Construction, Operation & Decommission) which in turn are distributed across the following six steps. (i) Selecting and specifying a suitable location and (ii) the system’s components, (iii) defining goals sought to be achieved, (iv) identifying sustainability indicators, and (v) evaluating them to generate data and information necessary for the (vi) assessment. Such an assessment tool includes the specific methodologies necessary to carry out each step of the framework. To test the validity of this framework, this document presents its application on a fictional energy project where a floating PV plant is planned to be implemented in an urban neighbourhood in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. The results of the fictional energy project suggest that the framework and the methodologies are valuable tools to carry out the sustainability assessment of floating PVs. In addition, the study identifies limitations in some of the methodologies proposed (such as the use of a basic 3-D modelling software rather than a professional solar energy analysis software) and explains possible improvements. In conclusion, it is reasonable to say that the structure of this conceptual model is a valid resource to implement the framework in future energy projects. Furthermore, some of the methodologies used should be further enhanced to propose a preliminary instrument for the development of a universally recognized framework to assess the sustainability of floating PVs in cities.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:43 environmental science
Programme:Environmental and Energy Management MSc (69319)
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