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Modernizing Irrigation for Energy Generation

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jan 18, 2023
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Energy generation goes beyond renewable energy methods like solar and geothermal— the sector needs to produce effective machines that harness power with little to no carbon footprint. Irrigation is an ancient science and art, desperately needing modernization to match the advancements of renewable energy generation technologies.

How Will Changes to Irrigation Help Renewable Energy?

The climate crisis is putting unique pressure on the irrigation industry. These pressures are in addition to an intense moment of self-evaluation — irrigation systems worldwide are old and can’t meet energy needs.

They need updating to acknowledge operational deficiencies that didn’t need addressing in the past because they sufficed in serving communities. However, now the planet harbors more people that need more food and water accessibility — and irrigation has to function over expectation while juggling climate-related stressors.

Current irrigation systems lose a lot of water from evaporation and energy from operational deficiencies. With droughts and other natural disasters putting water volume at risk, irrigation must produce more power for local hydropower and renewable energy.

Analyzing the benefits of improving irrigation can be a guidepost for what advancements still need implementation. Irrigation changes can help perpetuate renewable energy goals by considering wildlife and habitats before updating or implementing new irrigation systems.

The new paths could be less harmful to aquatic life and be as local or expansive as the environment allows. However, modernizing irrigation could provide boons to local communities instead of focusing on corporate outfits. It will reinvigorate energy generation by democratizing access.

What Improvements Exist to Build Momentum?

One way to bring irrigation to the future is to eliminate the reliance on electric pumps. Irrigation has gravity’s advantage — engineering them to flow through slopes will save energy and resources. Irrigation also has to incorporate new technologies and advance the old for more optimized energy generation, such as:

  • Irrigation hoses and pumps: Increasing rubber quality will make hoses stronger against weather-related influences and easier to repair.
  • Sprinklers and gaskets: Using materials that can withstand higher water pressures without leaks and make replacing sections simpler.
  • Conversions: Changing from an older irrigation method to a linear or pivot irrigation system, for example, is costly and disruptive to services. Though they are more efficient, more programs could offer assistance and funding to support faster changeovers.
  • Software: Using Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, sensors and programs to help analyze weather patterns alongside system efficiency can reveal improvements, water levels and soil quality without manual intervention.

It also may provide widespread access to more farmers because irrigation systems can simplify pipe systems over antiquated canals into in-conduit hydropower. The open concept of canals exposes the water to more elemental influences and evaporation than in enclosed spaces.

Though designers have ideas for how to make irrigation systems modern, they must have an unprecedented amount of environmental resilience that previous iterations didn’t have. Wildfires, high winds and torrential rains are increasing in frequency and severity and irrigation systems must have stability in these conditions. Durability can help communities withstand natural disasters by still having power generation where old systems would leave small towns in blackouts.

What Moves Do Humans Still Need to Make?

Collaboration is the key to creating modern irrigation systems. Though this trend is underway, changing irrigation requires many parties, including farmers, engineers and local governments that administer permits. Digging up new areas for conduits requires environmental experts and potentially archaeologists to survey the site to ensure the least amount of habitat and wildlife damage.

Though these parties can cooperate, nonprofit organizations are the backbone of expediting funding access and project advancement. Advocacy for widespread change must come from higher sources and that progress isn’t as supported yet.

Areas that need irrigation the most — large farms — can also take time to reflect on their carbon footprints. Modern irrigation will not survive or function to its full potential if greenhouse gas emissions produce at their current rate.

Megafarms can reduce their impact by making green switches, changing farming methods, carbon capturing and analyzing their supply chain for environmental improvements. Irrigation can improve energy generation, but not if the areas needing it the most continually request more than they can handle with no concern for the planet.

Making Irrigation Advance for Renewables

Irrigation infrastructure must propel into the future to meet the standards of renewable energy needs. Sustainable energy generation depends on water mobility to create power and level energy accessibility worldwide.

Innovating to decrease water and energy loss in old systems and maximizing improvements with new technology will change the industry. Developing irrigation will be a significant boon for more sectors than agriculture and energy generation, so it encourages everyone to participate in its progress.

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