Solar-powered desalination plant in Kenya gives fresh water to 25,000 people a day

Turning salt water into fresh water with the power of the sun.

Solar-powered desalination plant in Kenya gives fresh water to 25,000 people a day
GivePower
  • New solar-powered desalination plant provides fresh water in Kenya.
  • The plant is already able to support 25,000 people a day.
  • As more water-scarce regions pop up worldwide, technology such as this offers an energy efficient way to provide fresh water.

We are only at the beginning of an increasingly more perilous worldwide water crisis. The ability to turn seawater into drinking water will be able to turn the tides on this problem before it grows.

Desalination on an industrial scale would change the world.

We may be witnessing the first instances of a viable and scalable desalination effort. At a newly constructed solar-powered desalination plant in Kenya, a nonprofit called GivePower has been able to provide fresh water to thousands. The desalination plant opened up on the coasts of Kiunga in July 2018, and today it's capable of creating 19,800 gallons (75,000 liters) of drinking water each day. That's able to support around 25,000 people.

Hayes Barnard, the founder and president of GivePower, is taking his experience from the solar field and applying it to fresh water source crises.

"Humanity needs to take swift action to address the increasingly severe global water crisis that faces the developing world," he says. "With our background in off-grid clean energy, GivePower can immediately help by deploying solar water farm solutions to save lives in areas throughout the world that suffer from prolonged water scarcity."

GivePower’s solar power desalination device 

GivePower started off in 2013 as a nonprofit branch of SolarCity, Elon Musk's failed solar-panel company that was eventually absorbed into Tesla in 2016. Barnard spun off GivePower into its own organization before the merger.

He spent almost two years in San Francisco building the machine, he hopes the technology could one day reach the more than two billion people who live in water-scarce areas. The nonprofit works mostly on building solar-energy power plants that provide electricity all across the developing world.

According to GivePower, they've "already deployed more than 2,650 solar-powered energy systems to schools, medical clinics and villages in 17 developing countries GivePower is focusing its efforts on the most critical use case of sustainable energy: reliable access to clean water."

The Kiunga facility initially cost $500,000 to build and took one month to construct. They hope to generate $100,000 per year from the plant, and then funnel that money into building new facilities. The eventual goal is to cut costs to $100,00 per solar-powered desalination plant in the future. Barnard hopes that the systems will fund each other to create an additional system every five years.

Part of their initial funding came from a $250,000 grant by Bank of America last year.

Access to the system comes from people using the M-Pesa payments app. Locals only have to pay a fourth of a cent for every liter of water. Barnard points out that this is astronomically less than what is usually $1 per liter from premium water brands.

The installation in Kiunga has already made a lot of headway and fundamental change for the people living there.

Fresh water crisis and women’s rights

It's estimated by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) that one third of the world's population don't have access to safe drinking water. By 2025, half of the world's population may live in water-scarce regions. Cities in Africa, China, and India are already facing this problem.

It's been found that limited access to fresh drinking water keeps women out of the educational system. According to a report by the UN Commission for Human Rights, women and children in Africa and Asia must walk an average of 3.7 miles a day to procure water.

The UN states that "between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise."

This is why Barnard thinks that it's so crucial to bring water directly to them. The ongoing climate crisis will only make these types of solutions more crucial for affected communities .

GivePower hopes to establish a local thriving community around these new fresh water sources. One that'll encourage health, safety and even commerce. Already, Barnard has seen a group of women that have started a freshwater clothes washing service. It's his hope and intention that this spurs economic activity for women and affects the community at large.

The ingenious technology of solar powered desalination may just be the panacea for the growing water crisis. Once basic human needs are met, these water-scarce regions would not only survive but eventually flourish.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
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