Water holds significant power in the world. Encompassing nearly 75% of the globe, this chemical has started wars, signified borders, and has the ability to sustain life since the beginning of time. Without water, the earth would crumble.
It is for this reason that water has remained such a relevant topic throughout history. Recently, the rights of water have been heavily debated. Some individuals believe that since water is essential to life, it is a right for all humans to be provided access to clean drinking water. Others think differently, and often use water as a way to leverage deals.
This has led to an influx of engineers, scientists, and non-profits working together to innovate water technology to provide accessibility to clean water.
In certain parts of the country where the weather reaches extreme highs, water is harder to come by. This means that prices are inflated, wildlife is sparse, and more resources are needed to compensate for water scarcity. In California, all of these points rein true. The state has notoriously been in a multi-year long drought and has suffered in many ways as a result of it.
The state has found itself in this position due to a few different reasons. From over pumping ground water to poor water management, California has been searching for ways to combat the inevitable doom that comes with water scarcity. A group of engineers has taken it upon themselves to solve this growing problem. Taking inspiration from various locations throughout the globe where similar problems prevail, they have found a way that might just be the key to solving California’s water crisis - solar energy.
How Renewable Energy Can Help
There are an estimated 4,000 miles of canals that transfer water to and from destinations throughout the state. Due to the extreme weather, a lot of the water in the canals evaporates, resulting in major losses to the overall supply. By installing PV solar panels on top of the canals, not only will renewable energy be generated, but the panels will act as a shade from the sun, preventing water loss.
If this idea were to be implemented, it could result in major benefits for the state. An estimated 65 billion gallons of water would be saved annually, equaling enough water to meet the needs of just over 2 million people. The power generated as a result could also help push the state to meet its renewable energy goals by providing up to 13 gigawatts of energy capacity. In addition, the panels will operate 3% more efficiently due to the open air and water flow, keeping them cooler than usual.
In India, solar panels installed over canals have shown to have a great benefit on water scarcity and the local ecosystem. This is promising for California, as the outcome that can arise from installing PV panels is huge. Not only would there be a greater water supply and more renewable energy, but a ripple effect would occur where dozens of indirect benefits would result. An estimated 80,000 acres of land would be saved from being converted to solar farms, emissions would decrease due to renewable energy, wildlife would become more abundant in the area, and California would be on track to a net-zero future.
Perhaps one of the most positive benefits of this idea is the potential decrease in wildfires. Every year, California succumbs to wildfires throughout the state, costing millions of dollars in remediation programs and thousands of resources that could all be saved should the state have greater accessibility to water.
Sounds great. So, what’s the catch? Well, unfortunately, with large projects such as this, it is not so easy to implement as one would think. There are many processes and people that the idea must pass through to even be seriously considered. Is there enough of a budget for this? Is there easy access to materials? Any negative outcomes? These are all questions that will be considered when the local government decides whether or not to implement these solar panels.
On the bright side, the current outcome seems to result in a net positive. The cost would be more upfront, but less in the long run, and certainly worth it for the amount of water that would be saved.
In addition, this implementation would catapult the state forward in its sustainable initiative goals and help them significantly down the road for achieving more. If implemented, the state can act as a leader in the US for this advancement, urging other local governments to follow suit and aid in the country’s overall sustainability.