Sun-Powered Canals: Arizona’s Innovative Approach to Combat Water Scarcity and Boost Renewable Energy

By: | November 28th, 2023

Image by SolarAquaGrid

Harnessing Sunshine

The Gila River Indian Community and the US Army Corps of Engineers are collaborating on a solar-over-canal project in Arizona. This initiative, announced by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, aims to combat water scarcity and harness renewable energy. The project is especially crucial as Arizona faces moderate to extreme drought conditions. Its dual focus is on generating clean energy and addressing the critical issue of water evaporation in the region.

The initial phase, slated for completion in 2025, will span 1000 feet of the canal, generating one megawatt of electricity. The tribe intends to utilize this power for irrigating crops, including livestock feed, cotton, and grains.

Win-Win Solution

The solar panels not only generate one megawatt of power for the Gila River Indian Community but also provide shade, reducing water evaporation in the canals. This innovative approach, akin to a solar farm, proves cost-effective as it requires no additional land acquisition.

Water cooling enhances solar panel efficiency by approximately 3%. Covering California’s canals with solar panels could save over 65 billion gallons of water annually. This approach could generate up to 13 GW of renewable energy, reducing transmission losses.

“This is the type of creative thinking that can help move all of us toward a more sustainable future,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “Leveraging existing infrastructure such as the Level Top Canal to help provide sustainable, dependable energy – and to do so as part of a cooperative partnership like this one – constitutes a win all around.”

While the Arizona initiative marks a pioneering effort in the United States, it takes inspiration from international projects. The Canal Solar Power Project in Gujarat, India, which began in 2012, serves as an early and successful example of integrating solar panels onto canal surfaces.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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