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Solar Panels on California's Canals

A match made in heaven?

About 4,000 miles of canals deliver water to around 35 million people and help irrigate nearly 6 million acres of farmland across California. Researchers from the University of California have come up with the innovative idea of covering the network of canals with solar panels to prevent evaporation and generate clean energy. It sounds like a win win, because it is!

Most of California’s rain and snow falls in the northern end of the state while 80 percent of water use occurs at the southern end - hence the need for so many canals. Yet experts estimate that one to two percent of all water travelling along these canals evaporates in the heat of the Sunshine State's sun and calculate that by covering these canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water every year. Remarkably, that’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of over two million people.

These water-saving panels would also generate 13 gigawatts of renewable energy - that's enough for approximately 9 million homes. Furthermore, the cool water flowing beneath the panels would cool the technology during hot weather, boosting electricity production during the summer by up to three percent. The state's canals would essentially create solar microgrids to serve surrounding communities, offering energy resilience during wildfires and heatwaves.

Lastly, using existing infrastructure to build solar arrays prevents farmable land from being used for energy generation. Turning canals into hosts for panels would save 80,000 acres of farmland and natural habitat from being converted for solar farms. This protects not only the future of food but also the delicate ecosystems that makeup California’s remaining undeveloped land.

This solution, if adopted, is the best of many worlds in terms of energy generation, water conservation, and intelligent land use. Let's hope OGN can report back in the not too distant future that this win win scenario has been adopted.


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