The idea of putting solar panels on top of the world’s thousands of miles of irrigation canals has long seemed like a good one. In arid locations, besides the clean electricity, there is the added benefit of reducing evaporation. But the technology has been slow to take off. Pilot projects in India were never broadened. A study measuring the potential of covering canals in California has given the idea new legs. Now a startup company is trying to learn from India’s challenges and will install panels on canals in California’s Central Valley. And environmental groups are pressing for even greater adoption.
Back in 2015, California’s dry earth was crunching under a fourth year of drought. Then-Governor Jerry Brown ordered an unprecedented 25% reduction in home water use. Farmers, who use the most water, volunteered too to avoid deeper, mandatory cuts.
Brown also set a goal for the state to get half of its energy from renewable sources, with climate change bearing down.
Yet when Jordan Harris and Robin Raj went knocking on doors with an idea that addresses both water loss and climate pollution — installing solar panels over irrigation canals — they couldn’t get anyone to commit.