Credit: Dock Searls, Flickr

A first in the nation initiative to cover canals used for irrigation with solar panels might soon bring about two things on California’s wish list: additional water and more power.

Californian researchers have just run the calculations to see what would occur if their state installed solar panels on the 4,000 miles of its channels, including the significant California Aqueduct. The findings lead to a potentially lovely relationship. According to their feasibility analysis, which was released in the Journal Nature Sustainability, the panels would prevent 63 billion gallons of water from draining each year if used on a large scale throughout the state. The state of California would also get 13 Gigawatts of green power per year from solar panels across its open canals, roughly half the amount of additional capacity required to reach its 2030 decarbonization targets.

The largest water distribution system in the world, servicing 5.7 million acres of agricultural and 35 million people, is in California. While 80% of the state’s urban and agricultural needs is accounted for by the bottom two-thirds, only 75% of the state’s water resources are located there. Since pumps are needed to make all that water go uphill while being moved about, the water supply is the state’s biggest single power consumer.

An additional societal advantage might be that by placing the panels above canals, the state could build massive solar farms without converting farmland or upsetting natural ecosystems because the canal already exists on previously damaged territory. Consider how you would set up a solar array in your own house. Director of the Wheeler Water Institute at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Michael Kiparsky, says, “I can put it on my roof, rather than mowing down the yard next to my house and putting panels there.” “You’re increasing the advantages of something that has already undergone human intervention.

Solar-paneling the state of California may be ready for the widespread use of electric vehicles because of its canal system. The main highway that connects the state’s northern and southern sections, Interstate 5, passes straight alongside the California Aqueduct. Future car-charging stations that take power from the adjacent aqueduct may be located where there are already sporadic petrol stations scattered along the route.

Moreover, the approach may aid California in preparing for potential climate change. “Droughts are part of our past and part of our future,” claims Kiparsky. It’s only that they’re expected to get worse and more common as a result of climate change. The panels can assist reduce the amount of water evaporation from the state’s canals as it becomes hotter.

While some canals are open, others might be converted here and there. While it would not result in the whole benefit of saving 63 billion gallons of water annually, it would still be able to power nearby vehicle charging stations and water pumps while also lowering evaporation to a lesser extent. The availability of water in California is becoming more limited, and there is a rising demand for it, according to Kiparsky. Together, these two realities imply that any water savings are beneficial and appreciated.

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