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Pilot project to test the benefits and problems of solar panels covering canals

Pilot project to test the benefits and problems of solar panels covering canals.png
Posted at 10:49 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 10:50:28-04

Stretches of irrigation canals in Central California are about to get a bit of a facelift.

“We serve 150,000 acres with irrigation,” Josh Weimer, the external affairs manager with Turlock Irrigation District, said.

Weimer is part of a first-in-the-nation project that’s coming to life.

“We already own these 250 miles of canals, so the idea of using existing land that we own to minimize the cost of the overall project is something we’re very interested in,” he said.

“We expected that the benefits would be water savings by reducing evaporation and renewable energy produced, but there are other benefits,” Brandi McKuin, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said. She and her team said they have scientific proof of the benefits to us all.

“We want to validate our study so we're going to be testing the performance of the solar panels, estimating how much water is saved for evaporative losses, and then really looking at how to scale this up,” she said.

“This is an elegant solution. This is a way to make the waterways work harder and bring added benefits,” Jordan Harris, the founder and CEO of Solar AquaGrid, said. “This is a global situation. There are irrigation canals all across the world that would benefit from this technology.”

The pilot project will put solar panels over a mile of canals in Turlock, California.

“This project will hopefully demonstrate some of the benefits of solar over water canals and open channels. “ Olivia Virgadamo, an engineer with the California Department of Water Resources, said. The department is also playing a role in the project. “The hope is that there will be some insight on how scale-able and how practical this project is for larger-scale systems.”

“This is a small pilot project, really just a proof of concept. But we’re going to be generating, at both site locations, five megawatts of solar generation,” Weimer said. “Five megawatts is enough to power roughly 800 households.”

Construction on the project starts this year, and then, the research team at the University of California Merced will look at what is and isn’t working, sharing their findings with others.

“There’s an opportunity for other states to learn from this project,” McKuin said.

Those working on the project hope to cover as much of California’s nearly 4,000 miles of irrigation canals as possible, producing solar energy while saving land space and preventing up to 63 billion gallons of water evaporation annually, according to the study.

“Every drop counts. So, we really need to be smarter about looking at these integrated solutions that can solve more than one problem at once. This project is an example of that,” McKuin said.