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Sci Tech    H4'ed 12/19/14

Solar Desalination: Surviving Water's Coming Armageddon

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Solar also does little damage to the environment. It has reclaimed degraded land and cut the need for hookup lines to electricity grids, an advantage in areas where electricity is unavailable. Best of all, excess energy can be stored for reuse when clouds or nightfall shut out sunlight [38].

Solar Panels Designed for Agriculture, Industry, Schools

For large needs of drinking water, solar panels are now part of the desalination system, seen around the world on roofs or beside farms, factories, towns, schools, water districts, and apartment buildings.

Panels (aka "modules") were developed by a trio of Bell Laboratory scientists in October 1955 and now consist of adjoined silicone-based photovoltaic cells encased in glass by a sealed aluminum frame [48]. By 2009, solar-panel startups began adapting them to indirect solar desalination units for larger use [46].

One solar company(WaterFX) is linked to a Central Valley California water district serving farmers. Its 525-foot parabolic trough produces 14,000 gallons/day. Because additional units can be linked, 36 could boost production to 2,000,000 gallons/day. And instead of the going rate of $2,000 per acre-foot, it's been $450. Best of all, units can be leased [49].

Solar's electricity costs for pumps are dropping below natural gas rates. One solar company's "farm" is charging Texas' Austin Energy less than 5 per KwH on a 20-year power-purchase deal. It's a trend projected to spread in the Southwest and Great Plains states [50].

For Smaller Needs, Solar Stills are the Solution

For smaller needs such as villages, remote areas, or homes, solar stills are the solution that could save millions of lives around the globe. They can be homemade units out of a bowl, cup and plastic cover in arid places or billfold-sized collapsibles and ready-mades from kits.

Solar stills saved hundreds of lives in World War II, created for the U.S. Navy by Hungarian chemist/ biophysicist Dr. Maria Telkes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seen in the recent film Life of Pi, stills are small and inflatable. Some 200,000 were produced during World War II, packed in lifeboats and aircraft rafts for survivors of torpedoed ships and crash landings [51, 52].

Solar's well-known applicability to smaller needs--farms, villages, homes, heat exchangers, germinating seeds, inflatable tents, and even swimming-pool shields--explains its rapid proliferation around the world in volume sales. They're still based on Telke's invention, the Gallowhur Chemical Corporation's original patent, and the Higgins' company wartime production [53].

How solar stills operate was explained in sales literature:

"Energy from the sun heats water inside the still to the point of evaporation. Water vapor rises, condenses on the inner glass surface of the still, and drips into a collection bottle. This process removes impurities such as salts and heavy metals as well as eliminates microbiological organisms" [54].

"Do-it-yourself" kits are staples for camping, sailing, and ordinary households and usually found online. A backyard still for those needing only three gallons of drinking water per day is $245 and prices are dropping regularly [55]. One Missoula MT army-navy surplus store sells mint-condition WWII units for $20 each (hayesotoupalik|AT|aol.comEmail address removed) [56].

Demand for solar-panel desalination systems and stills is expected to spiral upward as today's permanent water shortages increase, especially inland regions around the world. Fortunately, because armies of competitors always follow a successful product, prices undoubtedly will be slashed within a year or two. Even poor countries will be able to afford furnishing their people with solar systems despite corruption and financing armies to ensure power.

Alleviating water shortages will be the major issue for human survival and within this decade for many regions of the U.S. and the world as a water Armageddon approaches. Luckily, solar desalination right now is the only simple, cheap, and available solution to provide drinking water for most of the world's population now. One energy report just predicted that renewables like solar soon will exceed $182,000,000,000 in global revenues and include solar desalination units:

"In the developing world rooftop and community solar has arisen as a cheap and effective alternative to waiting around for their governments to connect them to the electrical grid" [57].

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Dr. Ellis is the principal of Ellis & Associates, LLC, a writers group in Portland OR, a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize in history in 2004 (The Moving Appeal), and a former journalism professor at Louisiana's McNeese State University and Oregon State (more...)
 
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