Solar Panel Installations Over Canals Could Save California 65 Billion Gallons Of Water Per Year


Yale Climate Connections has shared how installing solar panels over California’s 4,000 miles of open canals could save around 65 billion gallons of water each year. Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, shared her research and noted that canopies of solar panels over canals not only generate clean energy, but also reduce evaporation by shading the water from the hot sun during the summer months. In her research, McKuin estimated that covering California’s open canals with solar panels could save almost 65 billion gallons of water annually. Yes, that’s billion with a b.

“This would be enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of over 2 million people,” McKuin said. She touched upon the need to conserve water in California.

“Water scarcity is a big concern for our state, especially when we have frequent droughts. And climate change will only exacerbate drought, so any water savings is really critical.”

She pointed out that this idea is already being used in India, something CleanTechnica has reported on many times, and noted that there does need to be more research to assess the feasibility of the approach in California.

How India Is Using Solar Panels Over Canals

Regarding solar canals in India, the BBC focused on a small village in Gujarat and described the town as dusty with lines of blue solar panels on steel support structures snaking their way to the horizon. The article pointed out that these covered the top of irrigation canals and that they gleamed like iridescent mirrors.

The article dives into the challenges of India’s dependence on coal-fired plants and how the country is an ideal location for solar. It also shares the story of how India found a way to overcome the main challenge of building solar farms — finding the right place to do it. In India, land is apparently pretty expensive, and most often has more than one owner, so purchasing the land to install a solar farm has a lot of what we call “red tape” here in the States. However, the answer to this challenge lies in Gujarat, where cleantech leaders there realized that covering its canals with solar panels was a solution that saves land, water, and carbon emission — a three in one, if you will.

Gujurat has 80 more people per square kilometer than India’s average, which is 441 people per square kilometer, which could mean another challenge to finding land to install a solar farm on. IndiaSpend noted that the initial Chandrasan installation, which is over 750 meters in length, didn’t have any land conflict due to the panels being installed over the irrigation canal. This was the pilot project and it was installed back in 2012–offering hope to a densely populated country that wants to transition from dependence on coal to renewables.

Gujarat has a canal network of 80,000 kilometers, and if India was to use even 30% of this network for canal-top solar, 18,000 MW of power could be produced in just Gujarat, according to the Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL). This is almost equal to the current coal-based installed capacity of Delhi, Rajasthan, and Telangana and 90,000 acres of land. To put it in perspective, canal-top solar on just 30% of Gujarat’s canals could meet almost a fifth of India’s solar power targets by 2022. You can read more about that here.

Canal-Top Solar Needs To Become Mainstream

Canals are everywhere here in Louisiana. Rivers and streams are, too. The idea of installing solar panels over our waterways is a genius way to save water while producing renewable energy. Pair it up with battery storage and each city that has a river, canal, or some type of waterway could easily come off of its dependence on fossil-fueled energy sources. Elon Musk, if you’re reading this, please consider canal-top solar products for Tesla. Tesla’s pretty much the loudest advocate for renewables in the auto industry and is a household name. Imagine if Tesla was to produce canal-top solar for canals and other waterways. This would make this idea much more mainstream.

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