Policy trade-offs and solar covered canals

One of my favorite courses in graduate school was a course on public policy decisions taught by a great economics professor. I took away two lessons from that course –

(1) Public policy decisions on everything we consider important – energy, infrastructure, immigration, public health, etc. – are fraught with trade-offs.

(2) A rigorous approach to estimating the return-on-investment on projects is critical. as they determine the quality of our decision making. One way to ensure rigor is to get multiple people take different approaches to arriving at the answer. The truth typically lies somewhere in the middle.

I’ve always had empathy for these trade-offs in discussions around public policy – most of whom ignore the nuance. And I also find myself to be incredibly appreciative of ideas whose investment case is so obviously positive that we don’t have to rely on people to make difficult trade-offs.

One such project I stumbled on recently was a pilot in California to create solar power canopies over canals.

Let’s take a moment to consider the positives:

(1) Renewable energy: Covering 4,000 miles of canals in California can produce enough power for over 90% of California’s households.

(2) Evaporation: It would also save over 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That meets residential water needs of over 15% of California households.

(3) It is a pilot with a proven track record: They’re starting with a small pilot to test viability. That said, India has already proven it can work with large scale deployment (who knew?!).

Investment cases like these are a gift that keep on giving. Here’s to many more of these.