Demand for solar power is growing. And recent research suggests that people should consider installing solar panels not only on fields and rooftops, but above waterways as well.

Brandi McKuin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, says canopies of solar panels can be installed over canals. The approach would generate clean energy, and by shading the water, reduce evaporation.

Her research estimates that covering California’s 4,000 miles of open canals with solar panels could save about 65 billion gallons of water a year.

“This would be enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of over 2 million people,” McKuin says.

Conserving water is especially important in California.

“Water scarcity is a big concern for our state, especially when we have frequent droughts. And climate change will only exacerbate drought, so any water savings is really critical,” McKuin says.

Solar-covered canals are already in use in India. McKuin says more research is required to assess the feasibility of the approach in California.

But she says it could be a promising way to generate renewable energy while helping conserve water in a warmer future.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media