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  • Owl Editor

California sunshine could be a solution for water scarcity

Western states are crossed by thousands of miles worth of irrigation canals, some as wide as 150 feet and others just 10. By covering these channels with solar panels we could produce renewable energy without taking up precious land while also preventing billions in water loss through evaporation!

Researchers at the University of California have calculated how much water the state could save by installing solar panels on its canal systems. They found that if California topped all 4,000 miles of these canals with photovoltaic arrays it would be able to provide up 65 billion gallons per year - enough for 50,000acres of farmland or 2 million homes! Researchers estimate a whopping 13 gigawatts worth of energy generating capacity from this project which is roughly half of the new renewable capacity that the state needs to meet its sustainable goal by 2030.

The California Department of Water Resources has awarded a $20 million grant to build an innovative, 8500-foot prototype that will cover canals in the San Joaquin Valley. The project developer Solar AquaGrid is currently designing this system and its first stretches should be up by early 2023 generating 5 megawatts altogether!

But there’s a long way to go before solar canals reach the kind of scale that the 2021 paper imagined—and not all stretches of California’s canals will be suitable for solar installations. One potential problem lies with making sure utilities will still be able to access these channels for maintenance purposes after installation; the group is experimenting with modular designs which will allow them to temporarily remove parts or even entire modules depending upon need without compromising functionality overall.

As with many climate solutions, it's difficult to show that canal-mounted panels are cost-effective. The process of installing panels over a waterway will be more expensive than mounting them on the ground. But once you add up all the benefits of canal-mounted panels like avoided agricultural land loss, water loss, and maintenance, these panels would be “very competitive.”

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