Technology 3 min read

Startup Cracks Desalination Code With Solar Power

Cheap and scalable desalination could be one of the most important breakthroughs of our time. Now, a startup may have found a method to do exactly that.

Image courtesy of Solar Water Solutions

Image courtesy of Solar Water Solutions

Flanked by the Kalahari desert to the east and the Namib to the west, Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, receiving an average of only 263 millimeters (10.35 inches) of rainfall per year.

Namibia is one of the countries most affected by climate change. The lack of rainfall has left basically the whole country at the mercy of droughts for many years. Recently, the government declared a state of emergency on the account of drought, the second in three years.

But groundwater alone, accessible via boreholes, can’t help the country face food and water scarcity in drought-affected areas.

Desalination of ocean water is another solution, but this method is extremely costly and polluting as it often runs on fossil fuel.

Sustainable Water: Solar-Powered Desalination

On the campus of the University of Namibia there’s a small desalination unit that uses reverse osmosis but requires no connection to the power grid.

This off-grid system, installed in a shipping container, converts Atlantic salt water into potable water using solar energy, and produces 3.5 m3 of per hour.

It’s the solar mini-grid that makes this system stand out from other solutions.

This project was born from a collaboration between the University of Namibia and the University of Turku in Finland. The system was designed by a Finnish startup called Solar Water Solutions.

Solar desalination technology could become a key solution to help Namibia tackle its most urgent freshwater needs and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Drought-stricken regions that are remote and lack electricity infrastructure could supply farms and households with freshwater at no running costs. Regions in the world similarly affected by climate change, especially small islands, could benefit from such a scalable solar desalination system.

Compared to the large energy-intensive and highly-polluting desalination plants, Solar Water Solutions’ technology is significantly cheaper and cleaner.

The elimination of the running cost of fossil fuel renders desalination not only economically accessible to poor communities but also environmentally sustainable.

Read More: Researchers use MOFs as Water Purifier to Improve Water Desalination

Solar Water Solutions used the same solar desalination system with underground saline water to produce pure drinking water for a 710-people community in Kenya. So the technology also can help remote rural communities that are far from the coastline.

The organization has also installed solar water pumping systems for some marginalized communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Its solar submersible pumps cut power costs to basically zero, and the same with human labor.

Antti Pohjola, CEO of Solar Water Solutions, envisions networks of small desalination units, scaled up as needed, to provide fresh water on site rather than having it delivered over long distances and costly infrastructure.

“In Asia and Africa, not only the electricity will be made by decentralized smaller systems, but we could also make water infrastructure local through decentralized systems,”  he said.

Read More: Report: Global Shift to 100% Renewables Will be Here by 2050

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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