solar panels over water

Should we cover California’s canals with solar panels?

March 26, 2021 | 3min read

California is no stranger to the occasional drought. The Golden State is always looking for ways to conserve water, and the answer may be solar panels. Of course, solar panels themselves help conservation efforts because they don’t require any water to create energy. However, there may be a more creative way they can help. According to a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, California scientists found that covering canals with solar panels would be a strategic new move. 

How would it work?

California’s water system serves 35 million people and 5.7 million acres of agricultural land, making it the world’s largest. Instead of leaving water canals open, scientists suggest we should install floating solar panels (photovoltaics) to act as a cover. This means we would be covering 4,000 miles of canals, but we would see some great environmental results. When anchoring floating panels, you have two options. Panels can be anchored to the nearby land or the bottom. It may also be a combination of both methods, but the anchoring is rarely visible. Pairing canals and water would help conserve water while producing renewable energy for the state. California has a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Using panels in this new creative way may just help the state reach its goal sooner. 

Water canals make panels more efficient 

Solar panels convert sun rays into energy, but they don’t rely on heat. They are actually more efficient when kept cool. This is why solar systems work well even in colder states. If the state were to install floating panels on the water canals, the cold water underneath would help improve energy production. In turn, the solar panels would produce enough energy to move the water throughout the state. The panels may even produce enough power to feed back into the energy grid. 

We eliminate the state’s largest fossil energy consumer

The water conveyance system is actually the largest energy consumer in the entire state. Most of the water available is in northern California, but the demand is in southern California, requiring a lot of pumps to push the water to its destination.  Rather than continuing to use fossil fuels to power the large water system, solar panels would make it sustainable. Making this system green may be key to reaching California emission goals, perhaps before 2030.

Canals would see less evaporation 

A major part of this conservation effort is reducing the amount of water evaporation in the canals to help the state cope with droughts. According to this scientific study, the panels would act as a cover to shade the water and reduce evaporation and avoid disturbing the surrounding environment. By installing floating solar panels, there need for solar farms on land will decrease, leaving the land available to other agricultural projects. 

Water conservation is important

This California study shows a creative solution to an environmental issue. The study is not meant to be an official proposal for the California legislature, but it will hopefully spark conversation. Solar panels are valuable when it comes to renewable energy and preserving the environment. Not only do they help reduce carbon emissions, but they may help save our oceans. If you would like to help fight the climate crisis, you may want to go solar. Freedom Forever prides itself on bringing solar to everyone and contributing to the fight against climate change. 

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