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High Country News

New study looks at covering California’s canals with solar panels

Covering waterways would save water and provide electricity, among other benefits.

An irrigation canal runs across the desert in California. | Doc Searls / CC via Flickr

Peanut butter and jelly. Hall & Oates. Now there’s a duo that could literally and figuratively be even more powerful: solar panels and canals. What if instead of leaving canals open, letting the sun evaporate the water away, we covered them with panels that would both shade the precious liquid and hoover up solar energy? Maybe humanity can go for that.

Scientists in California just ran the numbers on what would happen if their state slapped solar panels on 4,000 miles of its canals, including the major California Aqueduct, and the results point to a potentially beautiful partnership. Their feasibility study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, finds that if applied statewide, the panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating each year. At the same time, solar panels across California’s exposed canals would provide 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually, about half of the new capacity the state needs to meet its decarbonization goals by the year 2030.

California’s water conveyance system is the world’s largest, serving 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland. Seventy-five percent of available water is in the northern third of the state, while the bottom two-thirds of the state accounts for 80% of urban and agricultural demand. Shuttling all that water around requires pumps to make it flow uphill; accordingly, the water system is the state’s largest single consumer of electricity.

Read More: https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-desk-fresh-tech-idea-cover-californias-canals-with-solar-panels

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