California has some 4,000 miles of canals, and much of the water they carry evaporates before reaching its destination. It also has a large amount of sunshine throughout the year, potentially exploitable for photovoltaic energy.
The Nexus Project (Fall 2022 - 2024) is a pilot experiment that will cover the canal infrastructure of the Turlock Irrigation District to achieve these main objectives:
- Demonstrate proof of concept of narrow and wide-span canal coverage of solar panels
- Increase renewable power generation
- Reduce water evaporation in canals
- Experience water quality improvements
- Reduce vegetative growth in the canals
- Investigate energy storage via use cases
- Investigate integration between renewable power generation and energy storage
The 2021 study by the University of California, Merced, showed that covering all 6,500 kilometers (approximately 4,000 miles) of public water system infrastructure in California with solar panels can result in significant water savings, energy and costs for the state. The study illustrates a saving of 238 billion liters of water per year (enough to irrigate approximately 202 square km of agricultural land or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people). According to the study, the 13 gigawatts of solar energy the panels would generate each year would be equivalent to about one sixth of the current installed capacity of the state of California.
The project is a public-private partnership between Turlock Irrigation District, California's Department of Water Resources, University of California, Merced, and Solar AquaGrid company, and has received initial funding from the State of California of $ 20 million.