Opinion: How California could save water while generating clean energy
In 2021, our team at UC Merced found that covering California’s extensive network of irrigation canals with solar panels could make significant contributions to both clean energy and water conservation, serving two of the state’s most pressing needs at once. In addition to the added solar power, we found that shading all 4,000 miles of the state’s canals and aqueducts could save as much as 63 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation — enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or provide water to the homes of more than 2 million people. Now we have a chance to put those projections to the test. Last year, we joined the California Department of Water Resources, the San Joaquin Valley’s Turlock Irrigation District and the firm Solar AquaGrid to build the nation’s first such project and assess the feasibility of covering canals across the state.
-Written by Brandi McKuin, project scientist with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced; and Roger Bales, a distinguished professor of engineering and management at UC Merced.