California has a very large and complex water infrastructure—one of the largest in the world. Roughly 4,000 miles of canals are used to transport water to 27 million people across the state. Although effective for distribution and necessary for easing water insecurity, they have many vulnerabilities. Every year, billions of gallons of water are lost through evaporation, but a new environmentally focused proposal could help prevent that while also generating power.


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Merging Solar Energy Production With Water Security Measures

Researchers from the University of California Merced and University of California Santa Cruz have begun assessing the economic viability of adding solar panels to the state’s canal network. The solar panels would double as shade for canals, shielding them from the open sun and preventing substantial water loss due to evaporation.

According to Dr. Brandi McKuin, lead author of a recently published study in the journal Nature Sustainability, evaporation savings as high as 82% have been projected, which would be a major benefit for regions where water insecurity is a pressing concern. By shading the canals, the solar panels would also reduce the growth of aquatic weeds, which would reduce the costs of canal maintenance. However, the upkeep of the solar panel network would introduce some new maintenance costs.

Just as the shade of solar panels would aid the canal network, the canals themselves could help improve the performance of the solar panels. Water that is lost through evaporation would provide a cooling effect, which would increase the efficiency of the system’s energy harnessing.

The Right Investment For California?

The current research points to many advantages for a state that’s seeking more robust carbon-neutral energy production and that’s also frequently affected by drought, but costs associated with the required infrastructure update compared to the potential energy generation have yet to be assessed. Existing solar canal networks, as well as floating solar farms, have proven their viability in other countries, but they do require a major investment.

Is such an investment right for California? Do you think the potential benefits of a solar canal system mean that they should be considered for more drought-prone regions? Comment and share your thoughts.

ABOUT University of California Merced

Opening in 2005 as the newest campus of the University of California, UC Merced continually strives for excellence in carrying out the university’s mission of teaching, research and public service, benefiting society by discovering and transmitting new knowledge and functioning as an active repository of organized knowledge. As a key tenet in carrying out this mission, UC Merced promotes and celebrates the diversity of all members of its community.

A research university is a community bound by learning, discovery and engagement. As the first American student-centered research university built in the 21st century, UC Merced’s strong graduate and research programs mesh with high-quality undergraduate programs. New knowledge increasingly depends on links among the disciplines, working together on questions that transcend the traditional disciplines. UC Merced fosters and encourages cross-disciplinary inquiry and discovery.

ABOUT University of California Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz is a public university like no other in California, combining the intimacy of a small, liberal arts college with the depth and rigor of a major research university.

Since its founding in 1965, the University of California, Santa Cruz, has earned international distinction as a university with high-impact research and an uncommon commitment to teaching and public service. A campus with world-class facilities and one of the most visually spectacular settings in higher education, UC Santa Cruz offers rigorous academic programs and cutting-edge research opportunities that guide students in how to think, not what to think. A commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement are central to the core values of UC Santa Cruz.

From 652 students in 1965, the campus has grown to its current (2019-20) enrollment of more than 18,000 students. Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in 59 different majors supervised by divisional deans of arts, engineering, humanities, physical & biological sciences, and social sciences. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 40 academic programs under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans.

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