How Solar Canals Could Save Billions of Gallons of Water in California

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There are just about 4,000 miles of water canals in the state of California. The aqueduct system moves water from the northern part of the state to the much drier regions in the south. On a clear day, the sun shines down on the flowing stream, and some of this precious resource is lost to evaporation. A recent study conducted by experts at the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of California Merced suggests a clean, productive solution to this problem.

California Canal System

What is a solar canal?

Real estate is one of the challenges of developing large-scale solar resources. Generating a significant amount of energy involves distributing photovoltaic panels over a broad surface area. This project can be difficult in cities without many open spaces. It also raises concerns about the environmental impact of covering open land.

All around the world, scientists and engineers are looking for solutions to this issue. Island countries with coastal cities like Singapore and Japan are experimenting with floating solar arrays to minimize land use. There are plans in the African nation of Kenya to cover dam reservoirs with solar panels to prevent evaporation.

The University of California study proposes covering the California canals with canopies comprised of solar panels. These solar canals would provide much-needed clean power along with a reduction in the water evaporation rate.

Benefits to the Water System

Approximately 27 million California residents depend on the canal system for clean water. As the changing climate affects snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, conserving water will become even more important. According to the study, covering the aqueducts with solar panels would prevent the loss of up to 65 billion gallons of water each year. According to Brandi McKuin, a researcher in the study, “This would be enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of over two million people.”

The solar canopy system would potentially bring other benefits to the water system. Shading the canals will prevent the growth of aquatic weeds. These plants affect the flow rate of the water, and their root systems can expand cracks and fissures. Diminishing their growth may reduce maintenance costs for the system.

A solar canal system can also power itself. Although much of the water moves by natural physics, there are times when the system requires pumps to channel the flow to a different branch. Currently, the system uses diesel-powered pumps for this purpose. The new system could use energy from the solar panels to eliminate the need for fossil fuel.

Benefits to the Energy Grid

Energy generation is the clear benefit of adding solar panels to the canal system. California has a lofty goal of meeting the state's electricity needs with renewable energy by 2030 . Achieving this result will require a heavy investment in renewable resources. Covering the current canal system with solar panels could generate almost half of the electricity necessary to meet the goal.

Part of the attraction of the solar canal model is that implementing the new system would sidestep many of the issues found in developing new solar infrastructure. Building a land-based solar array requires clearing and leveling land in preparation for the system. In some cases, the solar provider must negotiate the land purchase.

The California canal system is already owned by the state and maintained by the Department of Water Resources. The aqueducts would not require further leveling, so the project would have a lower environmental impact than building on open land.

Cooling is another benefit of the proposal. As the water passes under the solar canopies, it would lower the temperature of the panels. This cooling effect will increase panel efficiency and generate more electricity.

Working Towards Renewable Goals

At Sullivan Solar Power, we are proud to help the residents of Southern California develop renewable resources. Our team handles residential and commercial projects throughout the region. We want to do our part in helping the state meet its clean energy goals.

A solar array on your home or business not only helps the environment but also decreases your utility bills. You may even find that you are selling extra electricity back into the grid. For more information about residential and commercial solar solutions, contact the experienced team at Sullivan Solar Power.

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