When bold vision + solar power = water
Last week, we discussed the effects that water has on (almost) every aspect of our lives, including health, economics, agriculture, education, and even gender equality. And as such a basic element of our lives, water also presents one of the greatest challenges Africa faces today. With over 300 hundreds of millions living without access to clean water in the continent, a disruptive change is imperative.
Every continent has its own water concerns, yet in Sub-Saharan Africa, they are particularly considerable. If the numbers of people living with no access to clean water weren’t enough, the expected rise of the local population (expected to double in the next few decades), makes an immediate and determined action long overdue.
Fortunately, Africa is not the only region in the world dealing with this challenge.
Many innovators across the world have been dealing with water related concerns for centuries, presenting a wide range of promising technology solutions. By combining vision, breakthrough innovation, and the continent’s most affordable energy source (sunlight), real change can be achieved, providing tangible solutions to the most important need of our time.
Examples from the Middle East
One great example of dealing with severe lack of water is the state of Israel, which is also one of the most prominent examples of technology tackling an ongoing crisis. With one-third of the country’s surface is a desert, after years of drought, water supplies are significantly damaged. In a country that once relied heavily on agriculture, the lack of available clean water could have a devastating impact on the economy and residents.
Over the years, the water-tech sector in Israel has evolved, and companies have developed advanced technologies aiming to better utilize existing water sources, prevent waste, and even “create” usable water from seawater or sewage. Today, Israel gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and has turned from one of the world’s driest countries into a water-tech leader.
Another example of Israel’s developments in the sector is water drip irrigation, which enables optimal utilization of relatively small water sources for irrigation on a large scale. Today, Ignite is utilising this technology and combine it with solar power, to provide remote farmers with affordable and sustainable irrigation for the first time in history. Moreover, we are now using even more advanced solutions science-fiction level, to extract water moisture in the air to be used as clean drinking water, a solution that can work even in the most desolate communities in Africa.
While irrigation, filtration, or “small-scale” water solutions can help remote communities, in order to meet the needs of the agricultural or industrial sectors a much larger-scale solution is needed. To this end, there is currently no solution other than water desalination, which provides a substantial amount of usable water quickly. As of 2017, over 20,000 plants throughout the world have produced almost 100,000 billion m3/day of desalinated water.
The problem with desalination stations used to be the cost: such projects require massive energy resources and are still very expensive, making the solution non-relevant for many developing countries. Over the years, seawater desalination costs have dropped significantly: from 1.5–2 US$/m3 in the 1990s, to ~0.7 US$/m3 a decade ago, to 0.55 US$/m3 (in the Rabigh station in Saudi Arabia, launched in September 2018) and even 0.49 US$/m3 (in the Taweelah station in the UAE, launched in October 2018). As prices continue to fall, seawater desalination will soon become available and accessible to many more countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
One notable example for tackling the affordability problem is Acwa Power, which develops and operates a portfolio of power generation and desalinated water production plants in 10 countries. Utilizing the most advanced solar energy solutions and technologies, the company has been able to push the prices down, allowing for the most affordable project in the market. Today, Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world (in 2011, the country had 27 desalination plants, producing 3.3 million m3 every day).
Technology-based solutions are becoming more available and affordable, and therefore, accessible. We should learn from these countries (and many others) who dealt with water challenges in the past decades in an inspiring way, utilizing innovation and technology to make a national dream into a reality. With the insights and developments from the past decades, Africa can now meet the enormous need for clean water supply.
I believe that solar power will present the perfect solution to do just that: By using green, safe, sustainable and available resources, and combining it with technological vision, creativity and boldness, tangible inventions can be deployed, solving the greatest need of our time.
Originally published at https://www.newtimes.co.rw on June 15, 2020.