Globally, climate change is increasing the risk of drought in many regions. Solar panels can, by shading the ducts, prevent water loss by evaporation.

It is also a win-win situation for solar panels, because they work even better because a colder environment prevents them from overheating. It also reduces habitat loss by placing slabs in man-made spaces, rather than cleaning up new land that could be used for other purposes.

As early as 2014, as part of a pilot project in Gujarat, India, they installed solar panels on over 750 meters of irrigation canals to reduce water evaporation. As a result, India has built an entire solar power plant on top of a canal in the Vadodara district, and another across the Narmada River, with a total capacity of 100 megawatts.

Indian researchers have found that the water beneath these plates has significantly cooled them, preventing overheating and resulting in an average efficiency increase of between 2-5%.

California plans to launch a solar panel project

California is now considering covering its canals with solar panels, after seeing the benefits of these successful installations in India. With approximately 290 days of sunshine and the world’s largest network of irrigation canals, California is uniquely positioned to alleviate water scarcity with this brilliant “solar canal” concept that has emerged.

The UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) examined how much California would benefit from this method. In addition to creating clean energy, it is estimated that up to 63.5 billion gallons of water evaporates annually, which would be a huge saving for a country that regularly suffers from droughts and sometimes water shortages.

Brandi McKuin and her colleagues from UCSC modeled the advantages and disadvantages of covering Golden State canals with solar panels. They used three different techniques to measure water savings and different construction methods that would be most effective. They found that the most favorable form of construction was steel cables. The results were published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Benefits and savings on many sides

UCSC researchers concluded that expanding California canals with solar panels could significantly reduce the costs of water conservation, water weed maintenance, improved electricity generation and property maintenance. These savings outweigh the additional costs of building a more complex solar system.

Further, California currently uses diesel-powered water pumps to start the flow of water in canals. They could be replaced with 15-20 generators per megawatt of solar energy for an overall cleaner system.

– This study is a very important step towards encouraging investment in renewable energy production with water savings – explained Roger Bales, co-author of this article.

Other applied methods include covering water bodies with massive tarpaulins, thin films or floating covers to reduce evaporation losses. However, covering the water with solar panels is far better, because they produce energy.

Watch below a video from Punjab in India where REC solar panels hung by cables above the canal save 73 million liters of water. In addition, these solar panels targeted at local farms have generated 8.4 million kW of energy per year since 2017.

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