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Federal Funding Initiates Solar Canal Projects in California, Utah, and Oregon to Tackle Water and Energy Challenges

Three projects in California, Utah, and Oregon are set to benefit from federal funding through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for outfitting water canals with solar panels. The IRA has designated $25 million for the design, study, and implementation of photovoltaics integrated with water reclamation facilities.

Administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, the projects received a combined $19.5 million to support the installation of solar panels along water canals. This initiative aims to address water and power management challenges in the U.S. West.

The IRA carve-out, spearheaded with input from California Representative Jared Huffman, focuses on studying the water efficiency gains from covering canals with solar panels.

Representative Huffman emphasized the multifaceted benefits of deploying solar panels on canal systems, citing increased efficiency, reduced carbon footprint, and minimized water loss from evaporation.

The largest project, located in California, received $15 million in funding. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority will deploy floating solar arrays on the Delta-Mendota Canal, with the University of California-Merced conducting a comprehensive study through a public-private partnership.

Researchers will evaluate the feasibility, costs, and benefits of floating solar over canals by deploying various technologies. The program aims to address design and operational challenges associated with this emerging use-case.

A study conducted in 2021 at the University of California, Merced, and University of California, Santa Cruz, projected significant energy generation and water conservation benefits from covering canals with solar panels.

The two other pilot projects, located in Oregon and Utah, will receive $2.55 million and $1.5 million in funding, respectively. These projects will focus on technical capabilities and economic feasibility over a five-year demonstration period.

Solar panels on canals are expected to improve PV performance, reduce evaporation, minimize canal maintenance, create land use savings, and reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with water reclamation facilities.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Bureau of Reclamation is further investing $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, encompassing various aspects such as rural water, conservation, dam safety, and desalination.

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