Droughts are causing serious problems around the world.
In particular, California farms are being ravaged by onslaughts of dry weather, putting many individuals at risk. Because of this, local governments have increased their water conservation efforts by enforcing usage caps and monitoring distribution closely.
Such initiatives are effective for the time being, but without producing freshwater to replenish the current supply, farmers will continue to hit roadblocks in crop production. While most have wrote the situation off as alarming and hopeless, a desalination company called WaterFX sees a timely opportunity.
“It will not happen overnight, but California is on the verge of a hydro-revolution; the beginning of a radical transformation that will dramatically increase the amount of available water. It has already happened in other parts of the world. From where we stand today, this transformation sounds quite unlikely,” WaterFX mentioned in a blog post.
Solar Desalination is the Answer
The company’s solution to California’s dry spells is solar desalination. In a nutshell, the process treats saltwater (Earth is filled with water, we just can’t drink most of it) using UV rays. Normal desalination requires a lot of energy to move and treat large amounts of water, making it very expensive.
Several organizations want to move away from energy-hungry plants because it’s not economically sustainable. Harnessing solar energy would allow groups to revisit desalination strategies without the wasteful issues that are commonly attached to the traditional methods.
WaterFX wrote a thesis on the entire process and claims that a Concentrated Solar Still (CSS) can generate 600 gallons of freshwater per square foot annually. To put that figure into perspective, one acre of solar desalination would have the potential to irrigate 40 acres of thirsty crops. With virtually an endless supply of saltwater from nearby oceans and underground sources, droughts may eventually be non-existent for the state.
Desperate times Calls for New Methods
Today’s water processing plants use massive amounts of harmful energy on a daily basis. This issue has prevented such establishments from scaling to cater to the needs of farms and residents in California.
“The energy intensity of conventional reverse osmosis plants has dropped considerably over the last two decades, but they still have a relatively high energy price tag compared to other water supply and demand management strategies,” said Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society.
“I see no elegance in a technology aimed at ensuring there’s enough drinking water during droughts if it employs a process that will hasten climate change, which in turn will worsen droughts.”
From a long-term perspective, Postel’s views make sense. Relying on non-renewable energy to power water filtration initiatives feed the pattern of drought and intense demand for freshwater. If applied properly, using solar desalination can actually break the vicious cycle.
Lastly, the solution is very cost effective. Solar equipment is getting cheaper by the day, from the panels that harvest UV rays to the batteries that store the energy. The barrier to adopt such systems is extremely low and will likely be fuel of choice in the not too distant future.