A solar canal rises in India

India is testing out an idea that marries solar panels with irrigation canals.

A 1 MW project has been built over nearly half a mile of the Narmada Canal in the state of Gujarat in India, and it will not only produce electricity but also conserve land and water, the state government said Monday. The project is meant to show an efficient use of land in an agricultural region by putting solar panels over a waterway rather than over fertile ground. It also should reduce evaporation of the canal water by an estimated 237,750 gallons of water each year, the state government said.

The Gujarat State Electricity Corp. developed the project and hired U.S.-based SunEdison to build it. The state government plans to inaugurate the project in the Mehsana district on Tuesday.

The idea of putting solar panels over water to save land and water isn’t new, but it’s not widely deployed either. A New York Times story last year outlined several projects – including two at California vineyards – that have done so by installing solar panels over ponds. The story also talked about the idea of covering the California Aqueduct with solar panels, but an official from the state agency overseeing the aqueduct expressed concerns over the stability of solar panels and the ability of repair workers to fix leaks and other problems at the 400-mile canal if they have to contend with massive structures of solar panels and their mounting systems.

Gujarat has been busy with solar power project development over the past few years. The state, which encourages solar energy installation by guaranteeing premium prices for the solar electricity, boasts at least 600 MW of solar and 2,580 MW of wind energy generation, which makes it one of the largest renewable energy producing state in the country.

The state celebrated reaching that achievement last week. With that much solar and wind developed, Gujarat officials said they had achieved their renewable energy purchase goal. It’s unclear whether that means renewable energy project development will slow down – I posed this question to Gujarat officials last week and will update the post when I get an answer.

The 1 MW project only covers a small section of the canal, whose main waterway runs nearly 285 miles. If you add all the side channels, then the overall length is about 11,806 miles. So there is still plenty of space to put more solar panels over them.

Photo courtesy of the Gujarat government