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Mexican architect wants to turn Tijuana River canal into a solar energy farm

  • Overhead of the proposed solar panels laid in over the Tijuana River. (Image: Google Earth; courtesy Center for Urban and Economic Design)

    Overhead of the proposed solar panels laid in over the Tijuana River. (Image: Google Earth; courtesy Center for Urban and Economic Design)

  • The proposed solar panels with algae farm laid in over the Tijuana River. (Image: Courtesy, Center for Urban and Economic Design)

    The proposed solar panels with algae farm laid in over the Tijuana River. (Image: Courtesy, Center for Urban and Economic Design)

  • The Tijuana River as it now appears. (Photo: Rene Peralta)

    The Tijuana River as it now appears. (Photo: Rene Peralta)

Rene Peralta has a dream for the Tijuana River canal, a virtual wasteland of concrete and polluted water that slices through the U.S.-Mexico border near the Pacific Ocean.

Peralta is a Tijuana architect who works on both sides of the border, and his vision – backed by the folks at the Center for Urban Economics and Design (CUED) at the University of California, San Diego – could turn the canal into a prosperous solar energy farm, able to provide power to as many as 30,000 homes in the city.

“This is a binational issue. When it rains, the canal takes water from point A to point B, but it’s contaminated, and it flows into the Imperial Beach estuary and the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side of the border,” Peralta told Fox News Latino.

“The river canal has great sun exposure. If we can cover the river with solar panels, we can essentially use the 'heat-island' created by the water, the concrete and the intense heat from the sun to power the city,” Peralta said.

The water in the canal comes from three water treatment facilities and from run-off from the city of Tijuana. It's reported that more than 20 million gallons of undrinkable and chemically treated water pours into the ocean through the canal every day.

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Flanking the canal are major highways, which dramatically increases CO2 levels in both residential and commercials areas.

To help with that, Dominick Mendola, a senior development engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is advising CUED on the idea of also using the river to support an algae farm that would help filter pollutants out of the water.

The algae would be grown in tubes lining the sides of the solar panels, a newfangled concept pioneered by a French and Dutch design firm in 2014.

Another serious problem plaguing the canal in the past has been the people – many of them recently deported by the U.S. – living alongside the canal.

“The Tijuana municipal government has removed the immigrants recently, and the canal is being patrolled 24 hours a day, but our project could potentially give jobs to people,” Peralta said.

Peralta was born and raised in Tijuana and still lives there. His devotion to this project comes from his many years traversing the border and thinking about ways to improve the city he loves. 

“Crossing the border every day, as an urbanist, I see the issues when I'm crossing. It’s a geography the U.S. and Mexico share, and the river is an urgent environmental social challenge,” Peralta said.

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.