As time passes, solar power is becoming a more cost effective and flexible power source. One area where it is being used with little fanfare is desalination of water.
Removing Salt from Water Using Solar Power
It is rather ironic that the majority of our planet is covered in water, but millions of people are in areas suffering from water shortages. The nature of the irony is clear almost immediately. The oceans of the world consist of salt water, a combination we simply cannot drink.
For the longest time, there has been discussion about converting saltwater into usable, drinkable water. This process is known as desalination. If the process can be used on a large scale in a cost effective manner, it will resolve many of the water issues in the world today whether they exist in third or first world countries.
Desalination is a term used for removing salt and minerals from ocean water. The name suggests one methodology, but there are actually many. Reverse osmosis is currently the most popular and is essentially a filtration process. It is popular in countries that currently have desalination plants such as those found in the Mideast and Caribbean. The process is also gaining more interest in China and the United States where certain regions are suffering habitual water shortages.
One of the issues that arise with desalination is the energy cost. Most plants are powered by fossil fuels, although Russia is currently studying a plant run off nuclear energy. With global warming and energy price concerns on the forefront, many are now looking to renewable energy platforms as an energy source for these plants. Solar energy is one of the options.
Solar desalination plants do not work in the way you might think. Solar energy is not used to provide power to the desalination process, although it probably could be. Instead, the power of the sun is built into the system. The idea is to heat saltwater and turn it into a vapor. The vapor is then run through a condenser system that turns it back into liquid water.
Solar desalination systems work differently, but the idea is to separate the water from salt by using the natural system one finds in the oceans. As you probably know, water evaporates off of the ocean to form clouds in the atmosphere. When the proper conditions occur, these clouds subsequently turn into rain clouds and release the saltless water. Solar desalination tries to mimic the process.
The double concern of rising energy prices and global warming are stimulating research in the renewable energy field. Solar desalination represents just one area where this research is producing tangible benefits.