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California’s first solar canal is a win for water and energy, climate, and air.

California’s first solar canal is a win for water and energy, climate, and air.

Solar panels shade canals and canals cool the panels.

Evidence is mounting to support this conclusion The western United States is currently in its worst megadroughtIn at least 1,200 Years Groundwater supplies are being overpumpedIn many places, the dryness, wildfires, shrinking water resources and shrinking water supply are making it difficult to live. Climate changeFor millions of people, personal

As an engineerI have been working together with colleagues to find a way that will both conserve water supplies and boost renewable energies to protect the environment.

We call it the solar-canal solution, and it’s about to be tested in California.

About There are 4,000 miles of canalstransport water to 35 million Californians. As we Explained in a 2021 Study, covering these canals with solar panels would reduce evaporation of precious water – one of California’s most critical resources – and help meet the state’s renewable energy goals, while also saving money.

The First prototypes in America for both wide-span and narrow-span canals are now in development in California’s Central Valley. The project involves researchers from the University of California Merced. We will try to figure out how this can become a large scale solution.

Conserving water, and land

California is Drought-proneWater is an ever-present concern. The changing climate is bringing us hotter and drier days.

In the last 10 to 30 years, severe droughts have occurred Wells that have dried upOfficials were forced to implement the plan. Water restrictionsFuel Massive wildfires.

California also has ambitious conservation goals. The state is required to comply with the mandate. Reduce groundwater pumpingWhile maintaining reliable supplies for farms, cities, and wildlife Ecosystems. As part of a broad initiative on climate change, the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, appointed the California Natural Resources Agency to lead efforts in October 2020. Gavin Newsom directed efforts of the California Natural Resources Agency under his leadership To conserve 30% of land & coastal waters by 2030.

Read more:
California’s water supplies are at risk as climate change increases natural dry spells, especially in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Most of California’s rain and snow falls north of Sacramento during the winter, while 80% of its water use Southern CaliforniaMost of the time, in summer. That’s why canals snake across the state – it’s the largest such system in the world. We estimate that 1% to 2% of the water they carry is lost due to evaporation in the California heat.

In a 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canals with solar panels would Save more than 65 billion gallons water annuallyBy reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people. California can achieve its sustainable management goals by building solar installations on land that is already being utilized, rather than on undeveloped land. WaterAnd Land resources.

Climate-friendly power

Shading California’s canals with solar panels would generate substantial amounts of electricity. It could produce approximately 13 gigawatts (or half) of the new renewable energy sources that California needs to meet its energy needs. Clean electricity goals60% of energy from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2045

Solar panels can be installed over the canals to increase efficiency. Solar panels could reduce the amount of water evaporating from the canals, particularly during California’s hot summers. Because water heats up faster than land, the water from the canals flowing underneath the panels could cool them down by 10 F. Boosting electricity production by as much as 3%.

These canopies may also be used for protection. Locally generate electricityIn many parts of California, the lowering of both is common transmission lossesConsumers and their costs. Combining solar power and battery storage can help to build microgrids in rural communities and underserved areas, improving the reliability and efficiency of the power system. This would reduce the risk of power outages due to extreme weather conditions, human error, wildfires, and other factors.

We estimate that it will be more expensive to span canals using solar panels than to build ground-mounted systems. However, when we consider the co-benefits of solar panels, such as reduced land costs, water savings and improved PV efficiency, we discovered that solar canals are a better investment. They also provide electricity that is less expensive over the lifetime of the solar panels. This is before we consider the human health benefits of better air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar panels shade canals and canals cool the panels.

Solar panels installed above canals increase the efficiency of both system.
Brandi McKuin, CC BY ND

Land has many benefits

Solar canals are more than just generating solar energy and conserving water. These thin, long solar arrays could prevent the conversion of more than 80,000 acres to solar farms.

California produces food for a growing global population. More than 50% of the fruits and nuts are grown in Canada.The U.S. consumes approximately half of its energy from food. However, as much as 50% of the new renewable energy capacity could be used to meet decarbonization goals. Sited in agricultural regionsYou can also find large areas of prime farmland.

Solar canal installations can also be used to protect wildlife, ecosystems, and culturally significant land. Large-scale solar developments could lead to Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, which can cause harm to threatened species like the Mojave Desert tortoise.

They also can harm desert-scrub plant communitiesPlants that are culturally significant to Indigenous tribes. Construction of the Genesis Solar Energy Center2012-2014 in the Sonoran Desert and Mojave Deserts Important cultural artifacts were damaged or destroyed by fires at burial sites and trails., spurring protracted legal conflict.

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Clearing the air – and the weeds

By generating clean electricity, solar canals can improve air quality.

Another benefit is to reduce the number of aquatic weeds which choke canals. In IndiaIn the city of San Juan, where solar canals have been built by developers since 2014, the shade from the panels prevents the growth of weeds that can block drains and limit water flow.

These weeds can be costly to control and herbicides can pose a risk to human health and the environment. Shaded canals would save around US$40,000 per kilometer for large, 100-foot canals in California. The savings could be as high as $69 million per annum in the state.

Solar panels would form a glass roof over canals.

Artist rendering of a California solar-powered canal system.
Solar Aquagrid LLC, CC BY ND

California’s solar canals are now available

California’s aging power infrastructure has contributed to catastrophic wildfires and multiday outages. Smart solar developments built on canals or other disturbed land can improve the resilience of power and water infrastructure, while also saving water, reducing costs, and fighting climate change.

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Turlock Irrigation District, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, will build the first solar canal prototype in partnership with project developer Solar Aquagrid, researchers and others and supported by the state Department of Water Resources.

This mile-long demonstration project will feature prototypes as well future pilots. They will be used by regulators, developers, and operators to refine designs, evaluate co-benefits, analyze how these systems perform, and help them evaluate their performance. With more data, we can plan strategies for extending solar channels statewide and possibly across the West.

This is an updated version of An articleOriginal publication: May 3, 2021

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