Google X's Latest Innovation Explores Floating Solar Farms

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May. 24 2019, Updated 9:58 a.m. ET

Google's secretive "moonshot" research and development arm, Google X, has filed a patent for something that might suggest where our future lies in green energy: floating solar farms

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Despite the lack of sci-fi futurism in this concept (Google Glass and driverless cars are just two of Google X's more splashy brain children), floating solar farms have the potential to disrupt the world's dependence on fossil fuels, and create a totally renewable infrastructure for energy. 

What makes them so innovative is that they solve one of the biggest problems posed by solar: land use. Individual buildings and houses can easily store their solar panels on the roof, but to really produce a lot of energy, you need large stretches of panels, i.e. solar farms. But building massive solar farms requires massive land area, which is growing more scarce could be used for actual farming or other purposes. Putting panels on the surface of bodies of water mitigates that problem. 

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Additionally, solar fuel cells need to be cooled to be effective, so some of the energy they produce go right back into the panels. When they're floating, however, they are naturally cooled by the water, saving more energy for other purposes. 

This isn't the first time the idea of a floating solar farm has been discussed—or implemented. Earlier this summer China began collecting energy from the world's largest floating solar farm: a 40-megawatt power plant consisting of 120,000 solar panels covering an area of more than 160 football fields, which could eventually power up to 15,000 homes.

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This also isn't Google's first foray into the clean energy sector. Last year the company patented solar-powered water harvesting rafts that collect rainwater on the ocean. The collected water is filtered at a facility running on clean energy and given to water-scarce areas like countries in Africa. 

We don't yet know what makes Google X's farm so special, but when we find out, it will likely change our reliance on fossil fuels forever. 

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