Two-thirds of our planet is made up of water. However, not all of it is potable or safe for domestic use. A large concentration of the Earth’s water is highly saline which means that using it to quench your thirst or water your crops is out of the question. This is why the need for desalination plants is more evident than ever especially with pollution and droughts severely diminishing and depleting our sources of fresh water.
The problem with traditional water desalination plants though is that they consume a lot of power. Experts estimate that if the domestic water in the United States was supplied by desalination plants, the country’s energy consumption would also increase. Fortunately, a solution to deal with this issue is currently being worked on somewhere in the Middle East.
Al Khafji’s Solar Desalination Plant
An efficient means of dealing with the issue of high energy consumption is by looking for an alternative power source that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. The Al Khafji (in Saudi Arabia) solar Desalinization plant is a great example of this. Once completed, this engineering marvel will be the largest desalinization plant that makes use of renewable solar energy in the world. A 15 megawatt array of polycrystalline solar cells will be providing electricity for the whole project making it completely independent from fossil fuel generated power.
How Does the Plant Desalinate Sea Water?
Due to the size and projected output of the Al Khafji solar desalination plant, using solar stills (or any derivative of the direct method for desalination) was deemed as impractical. The solar cell array has no effect on the desalination process other than to provide power to the desalination plant. The plant itself purifies the salt water using Dissolved Air Flotation followed by Reverse Osmosis technology. It also makes use of a jellyfish filter on its underwater intake tower to prevent jellyfish from entering (and ruining) its pump station.
What’s In Store for the Future?
Don’t you think it’s ironic that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would have the world’s largest solar desalination plant? At first glance, it might seem like poetic justice or karma for this country (whose economic prosperity was built on oil/fossil fuels) to rely on a solar-powered facility to purify sea water for its people’s consumption. However, that train of thought is wrong. If anything, Saudi Arabia commissioning this project is a clear indication that they are aware that some time down the road, humanity will have to stop its self-destructive love affair with the very same fossil fuels that it has grown rich from trading.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.