Seawater desalination is increasingly being used as a means to augment freshwater supplies in regions with high water stress. Renewable energy powered desalination helps to produce water at costs competitive with that of fossil powered desalination plants while also eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
Desalination is more energy intensive than traditional water treatment methods and depending on the technology, both electricity and heat are required. Total online desalination capacity has been increasing globally, both in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and elsewhere. Seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) has rapidly increased, and thermal desalination technologies have plateaued.
SWRO is projected to remain the dominant desalination technology owing to the lower costs and energy consumption and technological improvements. Nevertheless, while the energy consumption for surface freshwater treatment is about 0.6 kWh/m3, the least energy intensive SWRO desalination plants today still consume around 3 kWh/m3. Consequently, conventional SWRO plants are heavily dependent on diminishing and costly fossil fuel resources. In addition, the burning of the fossil fuels results in greenhouse gas emissions, only further contributing to one of the causes of water scarcity – climate change.
How can renewable energy based desalination help overcome the current issues with SWRO desalination? Solar photovoltaic based electricity is nowadays the least cost source of electricity in most regions of the world and as the cost of renewable energy technologies and energy storage further decrease, renewable energy powered desalination provides a cost effective alternative to fossil fuel based desalination. To show this, we can estimate how much desalination may be required in future, and its cost of production using renewable energy and fossil fuels.
Desalination powered by renewable energy
Using renewable energy for desalination is a cost competitive water supply option for regions suffering from water stress.
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