Behind America’s push to cover its irrigation canals with solar panels

A canal in the US
A canal in California. Photo: Dreamstime

The US government has allocated $25 million for solar installations over irrigation canals in California, Oregon, Utah and Arizona in an effort to reduce evaporation losses and accelerate clean energy deployments.

While it’s not the first country to do so — India was an early pioneer of the concept — the US is eyeing a much larger scale roll out after it draws lessons from these first projects.

Funded via the Inflation Reduction Act, the projects will “advance our clean energy goals and make Western communities more resilient to drought and climate change,” said Michael Brain of the Department of the Interior. 

The department said placing solar panels over water will keep them cool and therefore boost their electrical output, while also conserving water by slowing evaporation rates. These set-ups also conserve land and reduce canals’ maintenance requirements by limiting algae and aquatic plant growth.

The government will monitor the results as it eyes “future larger scale implementation.”

The biggest of the projects, on the Delta-Mendota Canal in California, will test floating solar systems.

Another, on the Layton Canal in Utah, will use raised solar panel structures. It’s expected to improve water quality by mitigating algal blooms, while also producing clean energy for pump stations or the grid, and “significantly” reducing water losses. 

study by the University of California, Merced found that 63 billion gallons of water — enough for 2 million people — could be saved by covering all of the state’s canals with solar panels. Combined, those systems would generate up to 13GW of power.


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