Could solar panel-covered canals and rivers be the key to a greener grid and water reserves?
A research project conducted by a student at the University of California Merced has been approved by non-for-profit water and electric utility Turlock Irrigation District to pilot what is described as the nation’s first construction of solar panels over water canals.
The scheme, which has already received $20 million (£14.7m) of investment, will see 4,000 miles of California‘s water canals being covered by solar panels.
It is predicted to reduce evaporation by as much as 82%, saving about 238 billion litres of water a year.
The research found that’s comparable to the same amount needed to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.
The environmental engineering graduate estimated that covering all state water canals with solar installations would also generate 13GWh of renewable power, equaling roughly one-sixth of the state’s current installed capacity.
That would be nearly half the projected new capacity needed by 2030 to meet the state’s decarbonisation goals.
Brandi McKuin, Author of the study, said: “Solar canals are an example of an energy-water nexus that offer multiple sustainability benefits.
“Using water canals for solar infrastructure conserves water while producing renewable electricity and avoids converting large tracts of land to solar development
“The cooler microclimate next to the canal mitigates panel heating, which enhances PV efficiency, and shade from the panels mitigates aquatic weed growth which is a major maintenance issue.”