Solar desalination has been found to be a useful method and process that can increase water supply and combat water scarcity.
Forecasts show that by 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.9 billion. By 2025, it will be very difficult to find a new source of water, as half of the world’s population lives in potentially water-scarce areas.
In the last few decades, solar energy has shifted from the energy efficiency of roofing to other sustainable methods such as desalination. Desalination is the removal of salt from seawater – a solution to future water shortages.
Solar energy is an ever-evolving green technology that researchers use to take steps to improve desalination. The benefits of using solar energy are obvious and outweigh the disadvantages. However, some difficulties stand in the way. Here is an overview of solar energy as a sustainable route of desalination.
Solar solutions for water shortage
Desalination plants around the world treat seawater and wastewater and provide drinking water to millions of people. Some of the largest desalination plants are located in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. However, they tend to work too hard, which encourages researchers to look for ways to increase energy efficiency.
Recently, a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China developed an efficient and promising solar desalination plant that can provide a family with $ 4 worth of drinking water.
One of the obstacles to desalination has always been the accumulation of salt in the saline wick, and the latest system eliminates this with other simple materials. The result is a new solar-powered desalination technology that provides more than 1.5 gallons of drinking water per square meter of sunlight.
The power of the sun is not alien. Green innovations have boosted developments in the construction industry with residential and commercial solar panel systems aimed at reducing climate change and de-carbonizing the economy. The United States has already installed more than 121 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, enough to power 23.3 million homes.
However, there is untapped potential in the application of solar energy technologies to increase water resources around the world. The non-profit organization GivePower recognizes this. In 2020, GivePower’s Kenyan-based solar desalination plant began pumping 2,000 gallons of clean water daily for 35,000 people.
Future water shortages between the MIT research team and organizations such as GivePower, which maximizes the potential for solar desalination, may not be a serious problem in some parts of the world, as we once thought. Similarly, areas affected by natural disasters will be provided with drinking water.
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Water flow: Problems with solar desalination
Although solar desalination has already proven its value as a sustainable method for obtaining clean water, it still has its problems.
Salt contamination – a contaminated barrier – is problematic for most desalination operations. Although MIT and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have found a way to use the wick, the salt and impurities accumulated in traditional desalination systems require regular cleaning, repair and replacement.
The research also highlighted several logistical concerns related to solar desalination projects, including:
Spatial distribution or geographical distance affecting the results of desalination of seawater and solar energy Lack of tools to measure whether solar desalination plants are economically viable Community Permission and Compliance How well can solar desalination plants be connected to the regional network Desalination with solar energy Determining a good combination of other renewable energy sources
It is important to remember that desalination requires a lot of energy, and in some areas there is still uncertainty about access to direct sunlight. For example, climate change may make it difficult to store solar energy for large-scale desalination plants.
Placement is also important. While one region can receive significant solar radiation, others cannot. For example, places with rainy, cloudy, and winter climates may not produce as much solar energy year-round as sunny, desert-like areas – consider the Northeastern states compared to the Southwestern United States. Thus, affected areas may not benefit from solar-powered desalination projects.
In addition, while widespread desalination projects will only run on solar energy, the panels do not generate electricity at night, despite the need for a sequential power source. Although solar panels can usually store enough energy during the day to keep part of the energy open for part of the night, they may not have enough energy for a long time.
There is much to learn from the technology currently available, and improvements are needed to ensure that solar energy has a significant impact on future desalination efforts. Efficiency, intensity and reliability are the cornerstones of a reliable solar energy source, especially as a sufficient route for desalination of seawater and wastewater.
The future of solar desalination is now
The use of solar energy to desalinate water is not a new phenomenon. Solar power plants and projects continue around the world. However, more needs to be done to ensure that this is a sustainable approach to preventing water shortages. Future generations depend on it.
Selected image: Filtration Separation