California to install solar panels over canals to fight drought, a first in the U.S.


In an effort to combat the devastating drought conditions hitting California, the Golden State will become the first in the nation to install solar panel canopies over canals.

The $20 million pilot project funded by the state has been dubbed “Project Nexus.” It will consist of an estimated 8,500 feet of solar panels installed over three sections of Turlock Irrigation District (TID) canals in Central California. It is expected to break ground in the fall, and be completed by 2023. The project was first announced back in February.

Conceptual rendering of span of the 110-foot-wide TID Main Canal with solar panels. / Credit: Turlock Irrigation District

According to TID, the project aims to use water and energy management hand-in-hand. The project is designed to increase renewable power generation, while reducing water evaporation and vegetative growth in canals.

TID states that the project will also serve as a “proof of concept” to further study “solar over canal design.” The agency cites a 2021 University of California, Merced study, which showed that covering all of the approximately 4,000 miles of public water delivery system infrastructure in the state with solar panels could save an estimated 63 billion gallons of water annually, as well as  result in significant energy and cost savings.

“According to the study, the 13 gigawatts of solar power the panels would generate each year would equal about one-sixth of the state’s current installed capacity,” TID wrote on its website.

Conceptual rendering of the Ceres Innovation Center, including solar over TID canals and the future Ceres Regulating Reservoir. / Credit: TID

TID also says the project will also support California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for 60% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.

California has taken multiple steps to combat drought conditions and climate change impacting the state. On Friday, ait moved forward with a plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Last week, officials announced that California would receive $310 million in federal funding to address the drought.

Farmers in Northern California are even growing the drought-resistant plant agave, traditionally grown in Mexico.

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