California’s first irrigation district will soon install solar panels on its open water canals in efforts to study the renewable energy and water-saving benefits.
The solar-canal solution, known as Project Nexus, involves the installation of solar panel canopies over sections of the Turlock Irrigation District canals.
The test deployment is a collaboration between the TID, the California Department of Water Resources, development firm Solar AquaGrid, and the University of California Merced.
A 2021 UC Merced study found that covering all of the approximately 4,000 miles of water canals in California with solar panels could bring significant water and energy savings for the state, including a savings of 63 billion gallons of water annually.
This amount is enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland, or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.
The panels also could potentially produce 13 gigawatts of electricity, or about one-sixth of the energy California generates.
Project Nexus is the first of its kind in the U.S. to test these water and energy projections at a smaller scale. The state provided a $20 million grant to help the project come to life.
According to the project website, the primary goals include increasing renewable power generation, reducing water evaporation and vegetative growth in the canals, and investigating the integration between renewable power generation and energy storage.
The solar panels will provide shade and wind protection over the water, which would reduce evaporation and aquatic growth.
The water in the canals also has the potential to cool the solar panels, which would increase the panel efficiency. Solar cells become less efficient as they heat up, according to the study.
TID was formed in 1887 as the first irrigation district in California. It provides irrigation water to 4,700 growers farming about 150,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley, while also providing power to numerous homes and businesses.
About 8,500 feet of solar panels are expected to be built over three sections of TID canals, and several types of panels may be selected to study performance.
The project is expected to begin this fall, and be completed by the end of 2024.
At this point, researchers and collaborators will determine whether the project was successful and should be continued throughout the state.
Project Nexus comes as nationwide and worldwide efforts continue to explore and push the benefits of solar energy.While land solar projects are becoming more popular among homeowners and businesses, renewable energy leaders are moving several steps ahead to determine how floating or water solar projects can expand solar potential overall.