Researchers at the University of California in Santa Cruz have published a study looking at the potential for Solar Canals in the state. These structures would not just promote renewable energy, but also water management.
And with the west coast is in the midst of a drought, it’s never been more important.
California already has a functioning public water delivery system in place, but there is one big problem with it. The heat from sunlight warms the water’s surface and evaporation takes place.
Thus, not all of the water that is collected and intended for use can be utilized.
What Are Solar Canals?
A solar canal is simply a water canal that has solar panels above it. These solar panels are able to collect energy, but more importantly, they provide shade to the water canal that helps prevent the water from evaporating.
Solar Canals are not new. In fact, they already exist around the world, with a prime example being in India.
Normally, one of the biggest issues with solar energy is the amount of land it takes up. However, when it comes to water canals, they already exist and their placement only improves the water system.
Yet, one of the biggest hurdles solar canals face is the huge costs associated with constructing one. Thus, many places look for less expensive alternatives. However, California is in a unique position.
Water management and electricity generation are some of the biggest issues for the state. Thus, these constructs are the perfect solution.
No Solar Canals Exist At This Scale
While solar canals exist in the world, they are typically small projects and will gradually grow over time.
The researchers suggested covering the existing 6,350 km of public water delivery canals with solar panels. This move would be quite costly, but the return of investment in terms of energy output makes this project economically viable.
One way researchers believe this can be achieved is by using cables to place the solar panels instead of steel structures. Steel is expensive to make, transport and install. Cables are cheaper and can sustain the panels.
Of course, it is hard to even suggest how valuable the evaporation protection is to the state. While the state has recovered from the worst of the drought, it still has challenges, especially as the population increases.
Water is a finite resource, and currently California and the rest of the west coast face drought conditions.
Other Options Have Been Researched
Using solar panels to shade the water is not a new concept. In fact, in 2018, research was conducted to figure out the viability of a floating solar array in the same space.
This type of project could contribute 10% of the state’s power according to the research.
However, nothing ever came of this analysis. In recent years, the price of floating solar arrays started to become competitive with land-based ones. And more importantly, floating panels don’t take up land space.
One thing is clear, increasing the state’s electricity generation in a renewable way and addressing the water crisis needs to happen soon.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.