You’ve heard of “floatovoltaics”, but Project Nexus takes a different approach by installing solar panels over canals. The concept grew out of a 2021 study conducted 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 with solar panels can generate 13GW of energy annually, equal to about one sixth of the state’s current installed capacity and about half the projected new capacity needed to meet the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.
“Solar canals are an example of an energy-water nexus that offer multiple sustainability benefits. Using water canals for solar infrastructure conserves water while producing renewable electricity and avoids converting large tracts of land to solar development,” said Dr. Brandi L. McKuin, lead author of the study.
The Turlock Irrigation District (TID) is 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. Groundbreaking on Project Nexus is scheduled for this fall, with the project expected to be complete in 2024 at multiple locations throughout the TID service territory. The project will include energy storage to study how storage facilities can support the local electric grid when solar generation is suboptimal due to cloud cover.
Solar AquaGrid LLC founders recognized the untapped opportunity to put a lid on evaporation by shading California canals, as is done in Europe, where canals are lined with tree cover, and in India, where canals are being covered with solar panels, and began their investigation, forming a unique public/private/academic collaboration to advance California’s Solar Over Canal initiative. The company commissioned the study at the University of Merced through the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and UC Water.
“Research and common sense tell us that in an age of intensifying drought, it’s time to put a lid on evaporation,” said Jordan Harris, CEO of Solar AquaGrid. “Our initial study revealed mounting solar panels over open canals can result in significant water, energy, and cost savings when compared to ground-mounted solar systems, including added efficiency resulting from an exponential shading/cooling effect. Now is the chance to put that learning to the test.”
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