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Solar panels and wind turbines are lifelines to any non-apocalyptic version of the future. They’ll help us keep the lights on, the air breathable, and the planet inhabitable. But while the climate and health benefits of wind and solar are well known, they have another, underappreciated feature that could come in handy in our inevitably warmer, drier future: They don’t rely on water.
A new study published in Nature Communications explores how this often overlooked benefit could help alleviate water scarcity and improve food security during a drought. The paper looks at California, where surface water — the kind found in rivers and lakes — is shared between hydropower facilities that produce electricity and farmers downstream who use it for irrigation. During a drought, there’s less surface water available, forcing farmers to turn to the groundwater found in aquifers to water their crops. After a recent five-year dry spell where groundwater was being pumped out faster than it could be replenished, California’s aquifers are now depleted.