River and canal photovoltaics (PV) involve mounting solar panels over the full width of these waterways, resulting in them being covered by the panels. In addition to making efficient use of areas to generate green electricity, this type of installation has several additional advantages, as demonstrated by a study by the University of California, Merced (UC Merced).
Shade protects from evaporation
Solar systems are not the sole benefactors of this technology, as it also brings several advantages for canal infrastructure. The shade cast over waterways by the solar panels reduces evaporation, a huge problem in areas with lots of sunshine that provide ideal conditions for producing solar power, as they are often plagued by water scarcity. In turn, the canal water that flows beneath the solar panels provides better cooling than ground-mounted arrays as water heats up slower than soil. This translates into an up to three percent increase in output.
The study’s authors have identified a rise in water quality as a further advantage given that the additional shade reduces algae growth. This has the potential to lower canal maintenance costs.
Of course, every new technique comes with challenges: So far, the cost of this infrastructure exceeds that of ground-mounted PV systems. Moreover, the usable area above canals is frequently limited by maintenance work. However, the experts at UC Merced believe that the benefits outweigh the challenges.
The technology is currently being tested in various pilot projects, for example in India, Spain and California
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