Some good news about Arizona’s looming water crisis

From left are Herb Guenther and Amy Van Dyken

From left are Herb Guenther and Amy Van Dyken

Not enough rain and snow. Dwindling reservoirs. Record heat. Our future water supply is in jeopardy. As Arizona struggles to find solutions, there is an obvious one right above our heads. The sun.

Rooftop solar power currently saves the state 768 million gallons of water a year. The potential to save more water is amazing.

Most people are not aware that it can take lots of water to generate electricity. Thermal generation, where nuclear energy, natural gas or coal are used to heat water and drive turbines, is second only to irrigation in terms of water withdrawals.

That’s hardly the case with rooftop solar panels which harvest electricity directly from the sun without the use of turbines.

Thermal power plants on average use 685 gallons of water to create one megawatt-hour of electricity. Rooftop solar uses almost no water, save a minimal amount to keep panels free of dust and dirt.

There’s plenty of room for growth. Rooftop solar accounts for less than 1 percent of Arizona’s energy supply. Increase that number to 20 percent, and Arizona could save 15 billion gallons of water a year. That’s the equivalent of 1.6 million swimming pools (at 9,000 gallons each). It’s enough water to supply more than 90,000 homes or the entire population of the city of Chandler for one year.

As a former Director for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, I can tell you that there is no one magic solution to avoid an Arizona water crisis. However, we can start with water saving measures that reduce our current water use to help meet the challenge.

As an Olympic swimmer striving to overcome a severe spinal cord injury, I can tell you that our great state can overcome any challenge. That’s why we teamed up to deliver this message.

You don’t have to be an expert on water usage or an Olympic swimmer to appreciate the need to conserve water, especially in the desert. It is ironic that our desert provides both the problem, a constant shortage of water, and a solution, an unyielding sun.

It’s encouraging to know that every time someone installs solar panels on their roof, our state saves water. Adding more rooftop solar to Arizona’s energy equation doesn’t require drastic changes to our way of life. All that’s required is to let consumers make use of this emerging technology through the private sector.

Sometimes the answer to a challenging problem is found right under our nose. In this case, the answer may be right above our heads.

Editor’s note: Mr. Guenther is former director of the Arizona Department of water resources and Ms. Van Dyken is an Olympic gold medalist

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