California to cover irrigation canals with solar panels

Representational imageMarkus Spiske

Turlock Irrigation District (TID) has announced Project Nexus, a pilot project to put solar panels on its open water canals. It will be partnering with the Department of Water Resource (DWR), Solar AquaGrid, and the University of California, Merced in the $20 million project funded by the State of California.

This project would cover two small segments of canals in Stanislaus County outside of Modesto, generating enough power for around 100,000 homes.

TID Board President Michael Frantz said:

In our 135-year history, we’ve always pursued innovative projects that benefit TID water and power customers. There will always be reasons to say ‘no’ to projects like this, but as the first public irrigation district in California, we aren’t afraid to chart a new path with pilot projects that have the potential to meet our water and energy sustainability goals.

The inspiration for Project Nexus comes from a 2021 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Merced, and UC Santa Cruz, which found many advantages to mounting solar panels over open water canals. The study showed that covering the approximately 4,000 miles of public water delivery system infrastructure in California could save 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13GW of energy annually. This amount of water could be used to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.

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