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Solar panel canal project advances in California

Conceptual rendering of spanning the 110 foot-wide TID Main Canal (Courtesy: TID)

A canopy of solar panels over an irrigation canal, working to generate clean energy and conserve water supply, is a conceptual idea that typically only exists in the optimistic corners of #energytwitter.

Until now.

Construction will begin this fall on a project to cover an irrigation canal with solar panels. A public-private research project dubbed Project Nexus will study the benefits of covering various sections of irrigation canals in Central California with solar panels.

On February 9, water and electric utility Turlock Irrigation District (TID) accepted $20 million of state funds for the pilot project, which will be conducted alongside the Department of Water Resources, Solar AquaGrid, and the University of California, Merced. The project will also feature energy storage.

Conceptual rendering of spanning the 25 foot-wide TID canal (Courtesy: TID)

Project Nexus will analyze the reduction of water evaporation, water quality improvements through reduced vegetative growth, reduced maintenance, and generation of renewable electricity, the group said.

Covering all of California’s canals with solar panels — stretching roughly 4,000 miles — could save 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13 GW of solar power each year, according to a study published in March 2021 by U.C. Merced researchers.

“The Solar AquaGrid model provides a combined, integrated response to addressing our water-energy nexus,” said UC Merced Professor Roger Bales. He said the approach “helps address California’s underlying vulnerabilities” while meeting both state and federal level commitments to produce renewable energy, preserve natural lands, lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

The project is expected to be completed in 2024.

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