KERN COUNTY, Calif. (KERO) — The California Farm Bureau says that the state is progressing toward its goal of achieving 100 percent renewable and carbon-neutral electricity by 2045 and agriculture may be an essential part of the solution.
Project Nexus is a pilot project that is going to serve as a proof of concept from research done by the University of California Merced. The project looks to provide water supply savings and generate renewable energy by placing solar panels over 250 miles of canals within the San Joaquin Valley.
Josh Weimer, external affairs manager for Turlock Irrigation District says that the solar panels will serve as a canopy covering the canals and will also provide a wind block. He says wind heavily impacts evaporation and could potentially save 63 billion gallons of water. He adds that one of the benefits of this project is being able to use land that they already own.
“We’re excited this fall to really pilot the first in the nation concept of covering some of our irrigation canals with solar panels and really studying what are the benefits. Water is such an important resource for us to be just good stewards at all times," he said. “Land is incredibly expensive. If we were wanting to go out and build a utility-scale solar farm, we would be spending millions of dollars on the land and we’d also be taking out productive ag land which is not something that we want to do."
The first-ever pilot project is happening over two different site locations so that they are able to keep track of results for two different types of canals.
“They’re all different shapes and the way they’re constructed are different. One is a 25-foot wide span canal and then the other is 110 feet wide. So we’re going to be piloting two different concepts, two different ways to span and mount over such a large distance,” explained Weimer.
While roadblocks may occur during the developmental stages of the project, Weimer says that water quality improvement and renewable energy are super beneficial to our community and that is why they are determined to work through any challenges they may face.
“We should work through all the design constraints and the changes to how we maintain our canal system with now solar panels over it. We’re just excited to see if this concept can actually make sense in the real world.”
Weimer says that they are currently in the full design and contracting process of the project and are finalizing what the design systems are going to look like for the solar panels and they plan to officially launch Project Nexus this fall.