The Innovation of Solar Power In Water Treatment


For many of us, getting a glass of water is as simple as turning on the kitchen tap. Unfortunately, getting enough clean water to survive can be difficult for those less fortunate, and the World Health Organization suggests that approximately 1.6 million people every year die from diseases attributed to the lack of safe drinking water. More than 1.1 billion people, or 17% of humanity as we know it, have no access to clean water, and yet a large number of us still take it for granted until the problem hits closer to home.

The recent drought conditions across the US have brought greater focus to the issue at hand, and experts are beginning to search for reliable ways of treating saltwater and making it drinkable for the masses. Governments across the world are searching for inventive and creative solutions for accessing clean water, and the answer may be available in the form of solar power.

Using Solar Power As A Sustainable Power Source

Recently, the minds behind the Desal Prize rewarded a group from Jain Irrigation Systems and MIT with the $140,000 first-prize, after they conceived a water treatment solution that relies upon the integration of solar panels. Solar panels are becoming more and more popular, as people begin to recognize the value of accessing sustainable power — not just within large industries and businesses, but also within individual homes and offices. This particular approach to solar power is centered on using the energy of the sun to charge a battery bank, which then powers a system for removing salt from seawater through electrodialysis.  

Turning to the sun as a source of power is not a new concept, yet many industries still regard it as a novel idea. Increasingly, solar powered solutions for energy and water purification are appearing within rural areas that struggle to obtain adequate water supplies. Emmitsburg Maryland recently introduced a new treatment plan for waste water that received commendation from the EPA (environmental protection agency). As a result, Emmitsburg has been able to classify themselves as 95% reliant on renewable energy.

We are constantly searching for a sustainable method of maintaining the world’s most valuable resource, and seawater treatment is becoming more essential than ever as the supplies of global freshwater dwindle. Conventional desalination procedures are expensive procedures that use a great deal of energy, whereas renewable energy in the form of solar powered treatment plants could offer an opportunity to lower emissions and costs, while increasing the amount of access we have to fresh, clean water.

How Solar Powered Water Treatment Works

Solar power can change the process of water treatment in many different ways, including solar water disinfection (SODIS), solar water pasteurization, and solar distillation. Though the technology associated with some of these procedures may not be entirely new, the way that they are changing the world is highly innovative — particularly in regards to making salt-water a drinkable and fresh resource. Crucially, these technologies are not only easy to understand and implement, but they also require a significantly lower financial investment.

For instance, Solar Water Disinfection, or SODIS, is a simple, low-technology process of using solar radiation and energy to purify water. A group from the Beirut University introduced the technology itself first in 1980, outlining a process that involves filling glass or transparent bottles with contaminated water, and then exposing that water to the sun for no less than six hours. The results were astonishing – as the UV rays of the sun were able to eliminate the invisible pathogens within responsible for causing diarrhea and sickness – ensuring that the water was fit for consumption.

Using Electrodialysis in Water Purification


The MIT 2015 Desal Prize winners also produced with a portable version of their solution. This means that the desalination system can be taken to anywhere in the world that needs to make use of the huge resources of seawater they may have access to. Their invention works by using the power generated by solar panels to power batteries running an electrodialysis machine. The machine removes the salt from the water, making it clean, fresh, and drinkable.

The process of Electrodialysis works by moving a stream of water between a pair of electrodes with opposing charges. Because the salt that is dissolved in seawater contains a collection of negative and positive ions, the electrodes can work to remove the ions from the water, leaving nothing but fresh water at the middle of the flow. At the end of the process, a series of membranes will separate the salty particles from the freshwater stream.

Since 2014, the team have been testing their system across villages in India, while using the National Desalination Research Facility in the U.S. to run extensive 24-hour tests, analyzing the cost and efficiency of their machines. According to experts, the group have discovered that their system is capable of removing salt from 2,100 gallons of water in 24 hours. The positive results have prompted the team to consider expanding their field tests towards those who need more fresh water in developing countries. The hope is that these desalination systems can be set up in small farms as irrigation solutions, offering the potential to enhance the amount of recoverable water in places where the resource is growing more precious by the day.

Solar Power is The Future

Using solar energy as a resource for water treatment is becoming increasingly common – particularly because it is a low-tech, low-cost solution for making the most of the world’s most precious resource. By capturing the heat and energy of the sun, solar powered water treatment can make water cleaner and healthier for human consumption and use — a solution that is particularly beneficial for communities without access to traditional forms of purification infrastructure. Perhaps the biggest benefit of solar powered water treatment innovations is that they require no fuel, reducing the negative impact levied upon the environment through pollution, and maximize clean, efficient solutions around the world.

Sam Alkass is a firm believer in solar power and its valuable impact on the future of our planet. Sam helps others generate their own clean, green energy while minimizing environmental pollution. For more solar news and tips, follow his Facebook.