MERCED, Calif. (KTXL) — Researchers from the University of California, Merced have come up with a solar solution to save millions of gallons of water each year and produce 13 gigawatts of renewable energy.

California has about 4,000 miles of canals across the state that could eventually be covered by solar panels to help meet the state’s renewable energy goals.

“This is just a no-brainer. Let’s do this,” said UC Merced engineer Roger Bales.

Bales is part of the team of researchers who want to cover California’s canals with solar panels.

“We need to do that in ways that limit conversion of productive farmland to solar or that disrupts natural lands,” he told FOX40.

It’s called Project Nexus and is a first of its kind, $20 million pilot project funded by the state that aims to increase renewable energy production.

“California aims to have 60% of its electricity coming from renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2050,” Bales explained. “If solar were placed all over all the canals in the state, that could get us about halfway to the 2030 goal.”

Another goal would be to save water and improve water quality. 

“Covering canals statewide could save about 65 billion gallons of water each year,” Bales said. “That’s enough to serve the residential needs of about 2 million people.”

“Californians should care about this type of project because we have renewable energy mandates in California and we also are in the third year of a drought,” said Josh Weimer, the external affairs manager for the Turlock Irrigation District.

The Turlock Irrigation District was the first to sign up for the pilot project. 

“We own 250 miles of canals, and so the scalability of this type of project to meet our renewable goals is something that we’re very interested in,” Weimer told FOX40.

Weimer said solar panels will be built to cover 2 miles of canals in the city to start with, which will generate 5 megawatts of renewable energy. 

“Five megawatts would produce enough power to offset over 800 homes annually in our service territory,” Weimer explained.

Bales said the energy produced by the solar panels could be used to power homes and businesses or be put directly into local distribution lines. 

“It’s a really environmentally-friendly way to provide renewable energy, which we’ve got to do,” he said.

Project Nexus is scheduled to break ground this fall and be completed by the end of the year. It will be under evaluation for two years. 

If it works as expected, it may become the model that could be used worldwide.