UC Merced study explores benefits of covering California’s canals with solar panels

MERCED, California (KFSN) – There are thousands of kilometers of canals across the state of California, but what if they could serve a dual purpose?

“Imagine driving down I-5 and seeing canals covered in solar panels and being able to charge your EV as you drive from Fresno to Los Angeles,” said Roger Bales, professor of engineering at UC Merced.

Researchers from UC Merced and Santa Cruz are looking for a new way – covering California’s canals with solar panels.

“What we found were some pretty exciting results,” said UC Santa Cruz postdoctoral fellow Brandi McKuin. “We estimate solar ducts could reduce evaporation and save more than 65 billion gallons of water.”

For the past 5 years, they have researched the benefits that can result in significant water, energy and cost savings.

“That would be enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the water needs of over 2 million people,” added McKuin.

According to the study, covering channels with solar panels would also reduce evaporation, avoid the destruction of natural land, and provide renewable energy.

“We need to develop solar power in such a way that the few remaining areas are preserved,” added Bales.

Researchers say the next step is to create a prototype project, but when and where to do it is still a work in progress.

“I think this is a good time to enter the debate about these multi-benefit projects,” added Bales. “We really need to think about how we can get multiple benefits from one investment, not just one benefit.”

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