California has come up with a truly Californian way to save their dwindling amounts of water: by covering canals with solar panels. According to nature.com, researchers from various UC campuses conducted a feasibility study of the effects of covering California’s open waterways with solar panels could reduce evaporation to the tune of over 63 billion gallons of water each year. Using this method of preventing evaporation also creates a kind of symbiosis: the microclimate of moving water below the panels keeps them cooler than when they are placed over land or on rooftops, thereby increasing their production by as much as 3%.
The benefits don’t stop there. Creating electricity in a variety of areas in California would lower costs for users and would result in less power loss during transmission. Researchers estimate that these well-placed solar panels would provide 13 gigawatts of power each year. Using canals to house solar panels would prevent at least 80,000 acres of land from being taken over for solar installations. Some of those lands are home to plants that are important to indigenous tribes. A similar program has been active in India since 2014, and has found that the solar panels help prevent algae blooms in the canals, thereby keeping pumps from clogging.
Of course no solution is perfect. There are limits for the width of the canals — construction over wide canals is difficult. If they are too narrow, the number of panels that can be put over them is limited and won’t absorb enough sunlight to be economically advantageous. Creating solar covers for canals will be more expensive than constructing them over land. However, the authors of the study concluded that the overall benefits from this sort of solar farm far outweigh the costs.
By: Ellie Cabell
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