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Water, Power, and High-Speed Rail

A Perfect Confluence of Opportunity and Gain


Water scarcity continues to threaten and disrupt California’s economy. The State Water Project cannot satisfy demand. Even worse, our invisible underground water supplies are being consumed at an unsustainable rate. Because the sea level is rising and the Delta levees are sinking, salty water is slowly infiltrating the Delta, which is the source of the canal system’s water. Worse again, the rising sea is pressuring ever more salty water into our depleted underground aquifers. In response to our severe drought, California might renovate its water infrastructure in conjunction with the development of the High-Speed Rail project.

With the relentless changes brought on by climate destabilization, it’s time to comprehensibly redirect our water, energy, and transportation policies toward more sustainable systems. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has stated, “The Authority has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy for powering the system.” I propose that our State’s High-Speed Rail can achieve its goal by using clean, renewable electricity generated by a “Photovoltaic Aqueduct System” located in California’s Central Valley.

California can repair and improve its vital water system while producing new revenues for government, income for developers, and clean electricity for the nearby High-Speed Rail line. I have formulated the following model: shading selected portions of California’s canals with photovoltaic generators. This project will help our utilities meet government mandates to provide renewable electricity. Depending on location and the developer’s resources, these electricity-generating structures might span the canal like a canopy, shade the canal like an awning, or float on the canal like a barge. The reasons we recommend money-generating, water-saving, photovoltaic canal shields are listed below:

Perfect Location: Following the same general path as the proposed High-Speed Rail lines, California’s canals run for hundreds of miles through desert-like conditions, ideal for the development of solar power. They are situated on secure public property, mostly government-controlled. Additionally, the canals frequently adjoin major high-voltage transmission line corridors. More than just increasing efficiency, producing photovoltaic power near the grid benefits our utility companies, which must fulfill California’s strict renewable energy mandate. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires utility companies to purchase one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. By law, most of this new power must connect to the grid.

Conserving Water: A shield over the canal would help keep the water cool and clean. Blocking the sunlight, a covering would help keep the canal free from unwanted vegetation and immune to blooms of toxic algae. In addition to slowing evaporation, the electricity-generating shield will protect the canal water from absorbing agricultural chemicals and airborne pollutants like soot, soil, and sand.

Ideal Timing: Everyone agrees, we have to act now! According to the U.S. Interior Department, the California Aqueduct system is inadequate, antiquated, and dangerously vulnerable to drought, flood, and earthquake emergencies, much less the effects of rising sea levels. Our canal system needs immediate overhaul. California has already approved this concept. In 2005, a bill was passed approving the leasing of the space above and adjacent to the State Water Project for the production of photovoltaic electricity (AB 515, 2005, Keith Richman [R-San Fernando Valley], signed by Governor Schwarzenegger).

Photovoltaic Technology: Power generation is agriculture’s biggest competitor for water. America’s coal-fired, oil-fired, natural gas and nuclear power plants consume more than 100 billion gallons of fresh water every day; only agriculture uses more water. In contrast, once installed, photovoltaic generators consume no water, except for occasional cleaning. Having no moving parts, they require minimal maintenance, make no noise and create no emissions. Long-lived photovoltaic technology also provides architectural flexibility.

“Net Zero” High-Speed Rail is achievable in California. Governor Brown, in his 2012 State of the State address, declared that High-Speed Rail was a top priority for his administration. Likewise, we must preserve the Central Valley as an agricultural resource. The simultaneous development of the Photovoltaic Aqueduct System with High-Speed Rail will help to address our water crisis and meet our transportation goals.

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