Installing solar panels over California’s canals may yield water, land, weather and climate returns.
The California aqueduct, which carries water more than 400 miles south from the Sierra Nevada, splits as it enters southern California on the border of Kern County and Los Angeles, the California DWR. Water shortages are front and center in the western United States, the region̵7;s climate is heating up, intense years of droughts are underway, and groundwater is overflowing in many areas. Western states are implementing a number of strategies to adapt to these stressors and prepare for the future. This includes measures to promote the development of renewable energy, conserve water, and to manage more sustainable natural and functional areas. As engineers working on climate-smart solutions, we’ve found a simple way to both water and climate in California with what we call a “solar canal solution.” Approximately 4,000 miles of canals deliver water to Californians. 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of farmland across the state. Closing these canals with solar panels will reduce the evaporation of precious water – one of California’s most important resources – and help meet the state’s renewable energy goals while saving it. Money too Water and land conservation in California is prone to drought and water issues are a constant concern. Now the changing climate has made it hotter and drier. Severe droughts in the past 10 to 30 years have dried up the wells, forcing officials to take measures to restrict water and have led to massive wildfires. By mid-April 2021, the entire state was officially experiencing a drought. At the same time, California has ambitious conservation goals. The state has the power to reduce groundwater pumping while maintaining reliable supplies to farms, cities, wildlife and ecosystems. As part of a broader climate change initiative in October 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the California Natural Resources Agency to spearhead efforts to conserve 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030. Much of California’s rain and snow falls in northern Sacramento in the winter, while 80% of water consumption occurs in Southern California, mostly in the summer. That’s why the Snake Canal across the state – it’s the largest such system in the world. We estimate that approximately 1% -2% of the water they carry is lost with evaporation under the hot California sun. In a recent study, we showed that covering California’s 4,000 miles of canals with solar panels could save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. This is enough to purify 50,000 acres of arable land or meet more than 2 million people’s residential water needs by focusing on installing solar power on already-used land rather than building on still-open land. Undeveloped, this approach will help California meet sustainable management goals for both water and land resources. Climate-friendly energy, shielding the California canal with solar panels generates a lot of electricity. Our estimates show that it can provide about 13 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, about half of the new sources the state needs to add to meet clean electricity targets: 60% from carbon-free sources by 2030; and 100% renewable by 2045. Installing solar panels above the canals makes both systems more efficient. Solar panels will help reduce canal evaporation, especially during the extremely hot California summers. And because the water heats up more slowly than on land, the canal water running under the panels can be cooled by 10 F, which increases electricity generation by 3%. These panels can also generate electricity in many areas of California, where It reduces both transmission loss and the cost for the consumer. Combining solar energy with battery storage can help build microgrids in rural areas and disadvantaged communities, making power systems more efficient and flexible. This reduces the risk of energy loss due to extreme weather, human error and wildfires. We estimate that the cost of expanding a canal with solar panels is higher than building a ground mounting system. But when we add to some of the common benefits, such as avoiding land costs, saving water, reducing water weeds, and optimizing solar cells, we find that solar ditches are a better investment and provide valuable electricity. Pay less than the lifespan of solar The above-canal solar panel installation increases the efficiency of both systems. Brandi McKuin, CC BY-ND The benefits to the solar canal land are more than just generating renewable energy. And water saving Building these long and thin solar panels could prevent more than 80,000 acres of farmland or natural habitat from being converted to solar farms. California grows food for a growing global population and produces more than 50% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed by US consumers. However, up to 50% of new renewable energy capacity to meet carbon reduction targets could be achieved in agricultural areas, including large plantations. Installing solar canals will help protect wildlife, ecosystems and culturally important lands. Large-scale solar development can result in habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, potentially endangering threatened species such as the Mojave desert tortoise. It can also harm desert plant communities as well as those that are culturally important to indigenous peoples. For example, the 2012-2014 construction of the Genesis Solar Energy Center in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts destroyed paths and burial sites and destroyed important cultural artifacts, sparking a lengthy legal conflict. [Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.] Clearing the air by producing clean electricity, the solar canal can improve air quality, a serious problem in Central California, which has some of the dirtiest air in the United States.Photovoltaic power can help release diesel engines that spray particles that pump water. Through California’s farming valley It could also help bill a larger sum of small and heavy-duty electric vehicles that move people and goods across the state. Another benefit is the control of choking watery weeds. In India, where developers have been building solar ditches since 2014, panel shading limits weed growth, blocking gutters and limiting water flow, fighting these weeds with herbicides and pathways. Expensive mechanics and herbicides threaten human health and the environment. For a large 100-foot-wide canal in California, we estimate the shaded canals save about US $ 40,000 per mile. Across the state, savings can be up to $ 69 million annually. The artist shows the solar canal system in California, Solar Aquagrid LLC, CC BY-ND brings the solar canal to California, while India has built solar panels over the canal and the US is developing a floating solar project. California lacks a prototype to Study in the area Discussions are underway for both large and small demonstration projects in Central Valley and Southern California. Prototyping will allow practitioners, developers and regulators to customize designs, assess environmental impact, measure costs and results. Project benefits and assess how these systems work With more data, planners can formulate strategies for expanding solar canals across the state and possibly even across the west. It will take dozens of partners to plan, fund and operate a solar canal project in California. Public-private partnerships will include federal, state and local government agencies, project developers, and university researchers. California’s aging energy infrastructure has contributed to deadly wildfires and multi-day power outages. Building smart solar developments on canals and other disturbed areas can make energy and water infrastructure more resilient while saving water, lowering costs and helping to fight climate change. We believe this is a format that should be considered nationally and globally.This article is republished from The Conversation, a non-profit news website dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts, written by: Roger Bales, University of California, Merced and Brandi McKuin, University of California, Santa Cruz Read more: Young ranchers in California are looking for new ways to raise livestock and improve land.The US electricity sector halves carbon emissions, nothing. To be disclosed, Roger Bales does not consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article and does not disclose the relevant entities other than academic appointments.