Does our Drowning Planet Need Floating Power Plants?

Without doubt burning fossil fuels is destroying our planet, yet, it continues to be our primary source of energy. Even in 2019 around 70% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, fuelling rising global temperatures. As our population increases our energy consumption will also increase substantially. Additionally, currently roughly 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity. Primarily because they live in inaccessible areas with poor infrastructure. Switching to renewable, sustainable and accessible energy is no longer a choice but a necessity, and Floating Power Plants (FPP) might just be our solution. A FPP is a power plant that is installed in a water body- usually a sea or a river. The FPP could be placed on ship or a barge; it can either be pre-assembled in a shipyard and then carried to sea or assembled at sea. Although the name suggests it floats, it is actually stationary but has the ability to be relocated. For this reason it is more accurate to say that it is mobile rather than floating. Its relocating capability allows it to supply electricity in regions that were previously inaccessible. Moreover, it remains unaffected by natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods allowing it to act as a constant reliable energy source.

Another advantage of an FPP is that it can be tailored to the weather conditions in your region. Based on what is most abundant you can choose to install a solar, wind, nuclear or hydro power plant. However, the major drawback is that the equipment installation and energy transportation is costly and requires large capital investments. For economically weaker regions this type of plant is unaffordable and for land locked regions it is inaccessible. Additionally, these power plants need to be strategically placed in locations that are close enough to coastal populations yet located in a region where it will not drastically interfere with sea life. Although using renewable sourced FPPs (solar, hydro, wind and nuclear) are initially expensive it is more economical in the long run. For instance, with cleaner air medical expenses can be reduced as it improves the quality of life. Furthermore, countries that face land scarcity can employ this method as land power plants take up large amount of space and depend on soil quality.

Although it was mentioned that the type of FPP adopted is based on what resource is abundantly available, some FPPs require more monitoring than others. For instance, a nuclear FPP is always preassembled at a shipyard and needs constant monitoring to ensure radioactive substances do not leak into sea. Even though this is a cause for concern, in earthquake and tsunami prone areas like Japan, an FPP is actually safer as tsunami waves are smaller at sea. While nuclear FPPs need to be handled with more care, solar FPPs need a larger surface area. A large surface area barge would mean that sunlight that would be normally be captured by phytoplankton and other marine organisms would now be captured by solar panels- disrupting marine food webs. However, the advantages include: reduced carbon dioxide emissions, natural cooling of panels by wind and minimal maintenance. Wind FPPs like solar FPPs require large surface areas which could negatively affect marine animals. Additionally, it could impact the flight of sea birds. But offshore winds tend to be stronger and steadier than those on land, making it a huge incentive to explore wind FPPs. There are also hybrid FPPs that have both wind and water turbines to generate electricity from wind and water sources.

It is important to consider the advantages and drawbacks of each FPP before deciding which one to pursue. When compared to non-renewable energy land based power plants it is obvious that renewable energy is the way to go. It emits less greenhouse gases, releases less pollutants and is sustainable. But the real question is whether to move these renewable power plants offshore. If you live in a coastal region or a region with water bodies it would make sense to have a FPP. Additionally, if you live in a region that faces land scarcity or frequent natural calamities like floods, earthquakes and tsunamis this would be the path to pursue. However, creating new pipelines underwater could cause stress on already sensitive marine ecosystems.

Our planet is drowning and we need to step up. Undoubtedly, renewable energy is the way forward. FPPs should be used wherever they are applicable as it not only reduces our carbon emissions but also would make electricity accessible to the millions.

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