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Floating Solar Panels Conserve Water While Flooding Grid With Energy

OAKVILLE (KPIX 5) – If you have solar panels on your roof you probably feel pretty good about helping the environment. But, as it turns out, you could potentially be helping with the drought too – if you have a pond on your property.

That's the situation at Far Niente Vineyards in Oakville, where nearly 1,000 solar panels have been grouped together, floating on a large irrigation pond.

"We don't want to take vineyards out of production. Our livelihood here is winemaking," said Greg Allen, President of Far Niente Winery.

Far Niente is in the heart of the Napa Valley, home to some of the most expensive farmland in the nation. It's not land you want to cover in solar. The estate is also a national landmark, so no panels there either. But the pond surface was open.

The system helps the drought too by reducing evaporation from the pond by providing shade. The proximity to the water also keeps the panels cooler and more efficient than they would otherwise be.

"We believe it's the first example of a grid connected floating solar array in the world," said Allen.

It's not a demonstration project either, the system is making real juice: 396 kilowatts when we visited earlier this week.

"The system is rated for 400 so I think we are doing pretty well," said Allen.

That output is nearly four times what the winery uses on a daily basis, meaning the power meter is spinning backward pretty quickly.

"To me this is just a no brainier," said Geof Syphers, CEO Sonoma Clean Power, who sees this catching on quickly. "Statewide this could be one hundred to five hundred times more around California than we are building right now.

The winery still receives a bill from PG&E, but the balance recently has been zero.

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