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05/06/2013

Indian state hopes solar panels covering canals will ease energy, water woes

With a population of 1.2 billion, India is among the fastest-growing countries and is poised during our lifetime to eclipse China as the world's largest.

That well-documented growth has led to a near-unrivalled thirst both for electricity and water. The World Resources Institute has estimated India is planning on building 455 new coal power plants -- four times as many that exists now.

India also recently proposed the building of 292 new dams through the Himalayas, which would double the country's hydropower capacity and perhaps help deal with the power outages that have become daily occurrences in large cities like New Delhi and Mumbai.

Amid worries about how the environment might be impacted by the many changes comes news out of western India of a novel method for dealing with two environmental problems.

In the state of Gujarat, India is building experimental solar panels overtop of irrigation canals.

The panels will produce electricity and also reduce evaporation of the canal water by as much as 237,750 gallons each year, Gujarat's state government says.

India faces a looming water crisis.

I wrote about this in 2009, noting that thanks to global warming and other environmental woes, India's agricultural output may be carved by 40 per cent over the next 70 years, according to the Center for Global Development, a U.S.-based think-tank.

Gujarat guarantees premium prices for the solar electricity, and those subsidies have helped the state become one of the largest renewable energy producing states in the country, according to a report on technology website GigaOM.

The Indian project, which produces 1 megawatt of electricity, covers a small section of the 458 kilometre canal.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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