Renewables Could Be Desalination’s Salvation

Evidence shows that climate change is already causing a shortage of fresh water resources in dry regions of the world. Parts of North Africa have experienced a 75 percent decline in per-capita renewable water resources since 1950. One emerging solution to this problem could be seawater desalination, a process of removing salt and other particles from brackish water. However, this process is very energy intensive, prompting desalination experts around the world to look for ways to power desalination plants with renewable energy.

This topic was the theme of the recent 56th Annual New Mexico Water Conference: New Water New Energy in Alamogordo, N.M. The conference, hosted by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NMWRRI) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), brought together experts from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia to share lessons learned in renewable energy desalination projects.

solar desalination

image via IBM

Conference participants also toured the USBR’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo. As the largest wholesale water supplier and the second-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, the USBR established the facility to conduct research on the development of cost-effective desalination and alternative energy technologies. The facility also serves as a center for public education on water and energy, and a testing ground for new technologies. A solar-powered desalination project will undergo field testing at the site in January. Other technologies under development include IBM’s solar-powered desalination plant, and a commercial wave-powered desalination facility off the coast of Texas. (See, also, MIT’s prototype solar-powered desalination device.)

USBR and NMWRRI hope that the information shared at the conference will be widely disseminated in order to accelerate the use of renewable energy technologies for desalination. “We want to get the word out that these are great ideas so others will want to join in,” said Kevin Price, Advanced Water Treatment Research Coordinator for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

    • Dpearson

      Without a doubt the secret to utility supply is to reserve “high grade” sources for unique requirements and use Renewables where viable. One such case for desalination is to use the waste heat from large cooling facilities such as district cooling. This has been described at http://www.star-ref.co.uk/star/neatdesal.htmlnnThis delivers in 1 module 1000TR(3300kW) and 30m3 of water per hour with a resulting water cost saving of over 40%. Dpearson’at’star-ref.co.uk