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CA - Tapping solar canals

A California-based project aims to cover the state's water canals with solar panels to generate electricity. Water, air and climate could also benefit.

In California, climate change is already a reality. Annual devastating wildfires, years long droughts and over-pumped groundwater systems are symptoms of the onset of a global environmental catastrophe.

Researchers worldwide are desperately looking for ways to avert the worst case scenario and, should it already be too late, deal with the new environmental challenges in the most effective way possible.

The Solar Canal Project, a kilometer-long network of irrigation canals in California which will be used to generate renewable energy, is emerging as one promising solution to these challenges.

FairPlanet spoke to Roger Bales, a professor of engineering at the University of California and a researcher on the Solar Canal Project.

FairPlanet: Tell us what the Solar Canal Project is all about.

Roger Bales: Putting solar panels over canals is a multi-benefit infrastructure upgrade for these open canals, which are built infrastructure, and we have the opportunity to use them to add on more infrastructure. The multiple benefits include reducing evaporation of water and putting solar panels over already disturbed land, rather than taking natural lands or productive farmland out of production.

Also, in California and other places, the canals function as electricity corridors, and so it is very convenient to use their distribution lines to deliver the electricity generated to customers. In some places, the generated electricity may also be used without putting it into the grid.

Another big improvement is that you keep sunlight off the canal to some extent, meaning you have less growth of aquatic weeds and algae. In some places, it‘s very expensive to clean those out. In other places it causes water quality problems in case the water is used for drinking water downstream. In California, most of the canals are used for irrigation water, but there are a few key ways to deliver drinking water into cities.

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