A Bright Future for Solar Powered Desalination

With over half the world’s population predicted to live in water-stressed areas by 2025 we must find effective solutions to the incumbent water crisis. Water desalination has long been used as an alternative way of sourcing freshwater. However, it often goes hand in hand with environmental harm due to its energy-intensive nature and toxic by-products. Researchers at MIT and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have come up with a new and effective solution: solar-powered desalination that provides affordable drinking water through renewable energy and without releasing toxic by-products.

Traditionally, desalination has been a dirty business

Water desalination has been in practice for thousands of years, with Greek sailors known to have boiled water to evaporate freshwater away from the salt, and Romans even using clay filters to trap salt. Although today’s methods have become more sophisticated they still rely on the same basic concepts of distillation or filtration.

Breakdown of Desalination costs. Source: International Water Association https://iwa-network.org/desalination-past-present-future/

Low impact solar powered desalination

The first solution to making desalination more environmentally friendly is to use renewable energy. In particular, solar energy has been identified as an attractive alternative. In February 2020, researchers at MIT and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China released a new study that showcases a method for passive solar-powered desalination. This system could provide more than 1.5 gallons of fresh drinking water per hour for every square meter of solar collecting area and hence guarantee water security in exposed areas.

What is water security? Source: UN Water

Solar powered desalination already in use

The non-profit organization Give Power has just installed a new solar powered desalination plant in Kenya. This plant is said to provide 35,000 people with fresh drinking water, producing around 20,000 gallons of water per day. Using Tesla’s solar panels and batteries, Give Power has been able to help the coastal town of Kiunga in their struggle against prolonged drought and water contamination due to sea-level rise.

Euro-Mediterranean Center on #ClimateChange: integrated, multi-disciplinary and frontier research on climate science and policy.

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