New Strategy for Renewable Energy Development : ‘Solar Canals’

Gujarat, an Indian state, has implemented a new strategy for the development of renewable energy. The idea consists of covering water canals with solar panels in order to not only provide another source of energy, but to avoid water loss.

A similar idea has been implemented in California, where solar panels cover some irrigation ponds in the Napa Valley region. According to the New York Times, “144 solar panels sit atop pontoons moored on a three-acre irrigation pond surrounded by vineyards in Petaluma in Sonoma County.” Some 35 miles to the north, in the heart of the Napa Valley, another array of 994 solar panels covers the surface of a pond at the Far Niente Winery.

In India, there are pilot projects that are looking at the economic viability of such projects. According to The Hindu, “the pilot project will generate 16 lakh units of clean energy per annum and also prevent evaporation of 90 lakh litres of water annually from the canal, an official told Business Line here on Monday. The concept will, therefore, tackle two of the challenges simultaneously by providing energy and water security. The cost of per megawatt of solar power, in this case, is likely to be much less than the estimated Rs 10-11 crore, as the two banks of the canal will be used to cover the canal by installing solar power panel and the government will not have to spend much on creating basic infrastructure, including land acquisition. Today, Gujarat has about 458 km of open Main Canal, while the total canal length, including sub-branches, is about 19,000 km at present.”

This is another example of how there are viable solutions to current energy problems, which can be implemented using existing technology. Many people await a great discovery of a new energy source. Even though innovation and scientific research should be encouraged, it is necessary to investigate new possibilities with resources and technologies that already exist.

The past few years has seen a rise in the general belief that scientific research and innovations will solve all our global problems. We tend to rely on scientists to come up with a new miracle, a new magical trick that would dissolve our preoccupations so we can go back to our ‘comfortable’ lives. In light of problems such as global warming, waste management and unprecedented depletion of natural resources, we must ask ourselves if scientific innovation is really the answer. We must ask ourselves if indeed we need a scientific breakthrough or if what we really need is to rethink the way we live; perhaps we need a combination of the two.

Even though scientific research is fundamental, it is also vital to reconsider the way we think. There could be infinite possibilities to go about solving some of our problems with already existing resources and technologies; the only thing left is to figure it out.

Many have argued that ‘powerful forces’ prevent the rise of ‘green’ technologies due to vested interests in the oil energy industries and such. Instead of subsidizing oil companies, the government could use that money to invest in many outstanding ideas that circulate around the world and that unfortunately are not as well supported as they should.

The placement of solar panels on water canals is another innovative idea of how to use existing resources and technologies. It relates to many other ideas such as fog harvesting in Chile, where they collect fog and use the water for farming and personal consumption. Scientific research should be encouraged, but so should critical thinking.