The Biden administration announced $5.65 million will be allocated for the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona to construct and install solar panels over the Casa Blanca Canal, with assistance from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.
The Bureau of Reclamation will work with the Gila River Indian Community to cover 2,782 linear feet of the Casa Blanca canal with approximately 2,556 solar panels. The solar panels are expected to generate 1.31 MW of energy, providing 2.26 million kWh of annual electricity to the Gila River Indian Community. This pilot will serve as a five-year study period and provide information for future solar projects over canals and for the community at large, as it seeks to include solar panels over 18.5 miles of canal.
“We look forward to working with the Gila River Indian Community on this novel idea to conserve water and generate renewable energy with funding from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton. “Reclamation is working hard on projects that support water conservation and energy efficiency,” she added.
“This project will help inform similar projects to better understand their impacts and make that information publicly available so that we can all understand the scale and corresponding benefits they provide.”
Reclamation says solar panels placed over canals have the potential to create several significant benefits, including:
- Reducing evaporation losses of the canal
- Increasing efficiency and production of solar panels because of the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels
- Creating land savings for open space and agricultural use
- Reducing facility maintenance by mitigating algae and/or aquatic plant growth
Floating solar photovoltaics (FSPVs) may be a game-changer in the renewable energy sector, according to analysis by Frost & Sullivan.
Conventional land-based solar power is challenged by rising land acquisition costs brought on by population growth, the analysis indicated. FSPVs do not require land and float on bodies of water, including reservoirs, hydroelectric dams, and artificial lakes.
As a result, floating solar technology manufacturers have made significant investments in research and development (R&D) work to improve floating support materials, designs, mooring and anchoring technologies, and sun-tracking systems.
California is developing the United States’ first solar canals, with solar panels built atop some of the state’s water distribution canals. These canals run for thousands of miles through arid environments, where the dry air boosts evaporation in a state frequently troubled by water shortages.
A public-private research project dubbed Project Nexus started construction last year and will study the benefits of covering various sections of irrigation canals with solar panels in Central California. Project Nexus will analyze the reduction of water evaporation, water quality improvements through reduced vegetative growth, reduced maintenance, and generation of renewable electricity, the group said. The project is expected to be completed in 2024.
Covering all of California’s canals with solar panels — stretching roughly 4,000 miles — could save 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13 GW of solar power each year, according to a study published in March 2021 by University of California – Merced researchers.
The Inflation Reduction Act made $25 million available for the design, study, and implementation of projects to cover water conveyance facilities with solar panels. The announcement is the first award of this funding, with more expected in the coming months.
GO DEEPER: Jose Zayas, EVP of Policy and Programs, American Council on Renewable Energy joined the Factor This! podcast to break down the key components of the historic Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion dedicated to clean energy and climate change.
Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is also investing $8.3 billion over five years in water infrastructure projects, including rural water, water storage, conservation and conveyance, nature-based solutions, dam safety, water purification and reuse, and desalination. Over the first two years of its implementation, Reclamation selected 372 projects to receive almost $2.8 billion.
The project falls under the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of certain climate, clean energy, and other federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.