Are Solar Covered Canals California’s Best Solution to Drought?

Are Solar Covered Canals California’s Best Solution to Drought?

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Installing photo voltaic panels over California’s canals 1a – Credit Dr. Brandi McKuin

Across the globe, drought has grow to be one of the vital prevalent and important problems with our instances. In the western US, it’s a rising catastrophe – with California’s 37.1 million individuals, the biggest state inhabitants within the nation, going through extreme drought situations. In 2022, fifty-eight California counties got USDA catastrophe designations.

There is not any straightforward repair, no easy go-to that can ease issues about having sufficient water. Gone are the times the place easy conservation by residents would assist ease the burden on reservoirs till the annual wet season comes. These days, the rains are extra sparse and fewer frequent inflicting reservoirs to have dropped drastically, threatening hydroelectric processes.

Looking to the polestar for innovation, that’s the place California is looking for options to this grave drawback. Thus we see the wedding of solar energy and waterways going down in photo voltaic lined canals.

Four thousand miles of open canals meander by the Golden State. With a dedication to producing 50% of its electrical energy from renewable sources by 2030, and to producing 100% fossil free vitality and being carbon impartial by 2045, California desires to rework its canal system into an electrical energy producing community.

There are two sides to each coin and a photo voltaic lined canal challenge is not any exception. This is first of a brief sequence on this topic. In this text we’ll look at the thrilling potential advantages and a few cautions as nicely. In Part 2 we’ll look at the “different aspect” – the destructive or draw back of what this innovation can create. Downside doesn’t imply this thrilling innovation shouldn’t occur. But it’s essential to see each side when taking a look at one thing as essential and impactful as photo voltaic canals.

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Project Nexus – the pilot program decided to function a proof-of-concept to display and permit for additional examine of photo voltaic with regard to canal design, deployment and its advantages – will make the most of Turlock Irrigation District’s (TID) infrastructure and electrical grid entry. The Project’s $20 million funding comes from the California Department of Water Resources.

Project Nexus hasn’t begun building but. They’re at present constructing the fashions to review as soon as they do. They anticipate breaking floor someday through the first quarter of 2023. The pilot will probably be in two places in California’s San Joaquin Valley –  in Hickman, east of Modesto and a mile-long canal span close to town of Ceres, California. It’s anticipated to be full someday in 2024.

Employing a light-weight cable suspension design, plans name for a complete of 8,500 toes (2,591km) of photo voltaic panels to be constructed over three sections of the Turlock Irrigation District’s canals. Because California canals wind round and aren’t commonplace in measurement or top (some go uphill and/or downhill to fulfill a connecting canal), canal sections vary in width from 20 to 100 toes (6 to 30.5 km). 

Solar Canal Structure 2 – Credit: GERMI Report

The thought of photo voltaic lined canals isn’t new. It’s been round for near 30 years. The late Carl Wiedert, a Northern California biologist, spent years pursuing California governors, CALFED (a division throughout the California authorities administered below the California Resources Agency), the California State Assembly’s Energy Committee and California State Assemblyman Brian Dahle to rally across the thought of using California’s canals as solar arrays to generate electrical energy. Of the 5 governors he proposed his modern plan to over the course of roughly 25 years, solely Governor Schwarzenegger responded favorably.

Wiedert estimated the challenge’s water financial savings would vary from 29 to 49%, saving tens of millions of acre toes of water. A ahead considering man with perception, Wiedert’s thought developed into making a statewide innovation design contest for faculties and universities. Sadly, as a result of state laws to acceptable contest prize monies was required, nothing got here of this and the concept was shelved.

In 2012, India took up the baton. Gujarat, a state in western India, established the Canal Solar Power Project. SunEdison India commissioned an preliminary 1 MW canal high photo voltaic plant close to Mehsana, 45 kms (roughly 23 miles) from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The pilot challenge on the Narmada River was developed at a value of $21 million million (₹ 9.68 Cr.) per MW. It used 750 meters (lower than a half mile) of canal size. In the subsequent section, the state added a ten MW canal high photo voltaic challenge in Vadodara, Gujarat at a value of $1.2 million (₹ 9.68 Cr.) per MW. With help of the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI), Jharkhand (India) deliberate to develop a 2 MW pilot challenge to generate energy. 

Unfortunately, because of varied circumstances (together with the pandemic), as of 2022 the pilot challenge has not been accomplished.

Other states of India are actively engaged on exploiting their canal networks for improvement of canal high photo voltaic crops.

Brandi McKuin, PhD, University of California Merced challenge scientist and environmental engineer, heard in regards to the photo voltaic canal challenge whereas she was working for SunEdison in India, though she by no means noticed the set up.

She mentioned, “the founders of what’s now Solar AquaGrid approached U.C. Merced in 2021 in regards to the idea of photo voltaic over canals and requested us to do a technical evaluation of the potential”. The thought had underwriting from NRG Energy and improvement help from Bay Area company, Citizen Group.

After writing after which remodeling the evaluation with up to date value information, McKuin submitted her white paper in 2021. This was the idea for Project Nexus.

A feasibility study printed in March 2021 within the journal Nature Sustainability discovered, if utilized statewide, the photo voltaic panels would save 63 billion gallons of water from evaporating every year. Those numbers work out to an 82% water financial savings. While undoubtedly intriguing, these figures could also be on the excessive aspect and so they’re primarily based on if the pilot challenge had been to be expanded to cowl ALL of California’s canals, not simply the quick stretches for the pilot.

Another encouraging statistic: if photo voltaic panels had been deployed all through California’s open canals, they would supply as much as 13 gigawatts of renewable energy yearly, about half of the capability the state wants to fulfill its decarbonization objectives by the 12 months 2030. Again, intriguing – if the pilot expands.

To perceive the potential and realities of this challenge, I reached out to somebody who’d been concerned within the authentic photo voltaic canal challenge. Nilesh Kumar – an Energy Expert with Research Triangle International (RTI), USA- was the Executive Team Leader and Renewable Energy Expert with Jharkhand Renewable Energy Development Agency’s Project Management Unit, Government of Jharkhand and Senior Project Officer, Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI), Government of Gujarat, India.

Actively concerned with the pilot program in India, Kumar says the primary concern of this sort of challenge is the excessive value of the solar energy plant because of heavy module mounting construction on the canal high, “The value per megawatt is double that of ground-based photo voltaic,” he mentioned.

Kumar shared some exceptional outcomes seen from the India canal challenge. The vitality technology produced has elevated by 2.5% because of pure cooling of the photo voltaic PV modules (with a mean 10 diploma C discount in water temperature) because of evaporation of the canal water beneath the panels.

“This in the end facilitates the shelf-life of the photo voltaic panels,” mentioned Kumar. That’s versus the land impact of land-based photo voltaic arrays the place the warmth degrades the panels. Power technology can be affected by the warmth.

Through evaluation and statistical projection, the photo voltaic panels on the canals will stay at 90% effectiveness for over 20 years. To put this in perspective, 1,000 KW ground-based photo voltaic set up loses 2.5% capability in 1 12 months, that means it loses 80% of its capability in 25 years. A canal-based 1,000 KW photo voltaic panel, nonetheless, loses 0.5% of its capability in 3 years. That means a 1,000 KW canal high photo voltaic plant would stay at 80% capability at 43 years! 

That’s a BIG financial savings!

Project Nexus rendering 2a – Credit: Solar Aquagrid

Solar lined canals current another thrilling advantages. These embody:

  • saving water by lowering evaporation. California canals lose from 1-2% of their water yearly. Saving water means extra for farmers and shoppers.
  • shade from the panels helps mitigate aquatic weed progress, a serious canal upkeep concern
  • offering a brand new supply of unpolluted vitality and new electrical energy that may be fed into the grid. Currently 80% of US vitality comes from fossil fuels though renewables are making headway. 
  • lowering CO2 emissions and bettering air high quality. This would occur as a result of farmers wouldn’t have to make use of diesel turbines they historically use to pump their water.

As thrilling as these advantages are, and as a lot as they’d assist alleviate California’s water woes, there are those that say it’s too quickly to dive into this sort of challenge.

Mark Kapczynski, Chief Marketing Officer of Energy Shares, says the timing isn’t proper.

Energy Shares – a centralized platform the place traders and challenge builders can join in an effort to fund initiatives and speed up the adoption of renewable vitality within the United States – helps utility scale initiatives get off the bottom.

Kapczynski says “the considered photo voltaic panels on waterways looks like a terrific possibility. You can deploy panels on a wide-open physique / area and benefit from pure cooling and contours. The actual concern is, relying on the quantity of protection on the physique of water, this could grow to be the only use of the waterway, significantly (limiting) the usage of waterways in the present day and for the long run, at the same time as our wants for water change and evolve.”

Also, he added, “there are unknown results to the species of fish and marine life at this level to know the complete affect over time. The nation wants scale and getting it going sooner. We want to attain larger scale with options that produce sufficient energy to offset that which makes use of fossil gas / coal.”

The analysis must be carried out in regards to the affect of the canals, Kapczynski famous.

“There’s loads of open land that’s ripe and able to go,” he mentioned. “Solar lined canals are nonetheless experimental,” Kapczynski mentioned. “What’s the larger answer?  We want to take a look at the larger wins.”

This is a big matter. Where innovation is concerned, it’s essential to understand and keep in mind for each new and fantastic answer, there are ALWAYS new issues and points to be thought-about and factored in.

The subsequent article on this topic will take a look at these points – the potential draw back of getting photo voltaic lined canals – their affect on water fowl, on the surroundings and on the canal beds themselves. Yes, photo voltaic lined canals maintain great advantages. But keep in mind that two-sided coin? We have to take a look at all the problems, see their results and ramifications and think about ALL the information. Then we’ll have the entire image.

Meanwhile, Project Nexus is shifting ahead and cities and nations around the globe are taking discover. The Los Angeles City Commission is contemplating implementing the same challenge though it hasn’t but voted on this concept. And Jordan Harris and Robin Raj, the sustainability entrepreneurs and founders of Solar AquaGrid, are commonly fielding question cellphone calls from throughout the globe.

There’s extra to study what this challenge means – to California and to the remainder of the nation going through ever rising drought and decreased water sources. It’s affect and the ripples it creates will probably be seen and felt for many years to come back.

So make certain to come back again for Part 2!

Author Bio: Debra Atlas is an environmental journalist, writer, workshop chief {and professional} speaker. She will be reached by, or