Turlock Irrigation District (TID) in Turlock, California, is preparing the country’s first pilot project to cover a section of the water utility’s existing canals with solar panels. Project Nexus is a multi-use solar project that will evaluate water evaporation reduction through mid-day shade and wind mitigation, as well as improved water quality and decreased canal maintenance due to reduced vegetative growth.

TID, the Department of Water Resources (DWR), Solar AquaGrid, and the University of California, Merced collaborate on Project Nexus, a public-private-academic alliance. Project Nexus is set to commence ground this autumn, with completion projected in 2024 at numerous locations within the TID service zone in California’s Central Valley. To cut expenses and promote the region’s sustainable agricultural history, the project will utilise existing TID infrastructure on already-disturbed land. Energy storage will also be implemented to see how storage facilities might help the local electric system when solar power isn’t as good due to cloud cover. The state of California is funding the $20 million project.

TID’s board president, Michael Frantz, remarked, “In our 135-year history, we’ve always sought new initiatives that benefit TID water and electricity consumers.” “While there will always be reasons to say ‘no,’ as California’s first public irrigation district, we aren’t hesitant to forge ahead with experimental projects that have the potential to accomplish our water and energy sustainability goals.”

Project Nexus is considered as a model that might be reproduced elsewhere in California to assist the state meet its water and energy goals. Project Nexus was inspired by an idea given in a recent the University of California research published in the journal Nature Sustainability in March.

According to the UC research, covering all of California’s approximately 4,000 miles of canals might save 63 billion gallons of water each year, enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of agriculture or supply the residential water demands of more than 2 million people. The 13 GW of solar electricity generated annually by the solar panels would be nearly one-sixth of the state’s existing installed capacity, according to the research.

Solar AquaGrid, a Bay Area development business, has been hired by Turlock Irrigation District to serve as project developers and program managers for TID and Project Nexus. Since the beginning of the project, the two agencies have worked together. After commissioning the UC Merced Study in 2015, Solar AquaGrid conceived the concept and has enabled collaboration among the many partners to bring Project Nexus to fruition.

“In an age of growing drought, research and common sense tell us that it’s time to put a stop to evaporation,” said Jordan Harris, CEO of Solar AquaGrid. “We’re pleased to work with the Turlock Irrigation District, the Department of Water Resources, and UC Merced to establish this first-in-the-nation pilot project and bring essential innovation to the Central Valley.” When compared to ground-mounted solar systems, placing solar panels over open canals can result in considerable water, energy, and cost savings, as well as increased efficiency due to an exponential shading/cooling effect. Now is your moment to put all you’ve learned to the test.”