Can Sun and Wind Make More Salt Water Drinkable?
Lavelle, Marianne. "Can Sun and Wind Make More Salt Water Drinkable?"National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 02 Feb. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2015.
While sailors had been boiling water to desalinize it so that it is safe to drink since as far back as 200 AD, many countries have recently taken to more sophisticated methods of desalinization to address the impending crisis of lack of drinking water. When most people think of desalinizing water in large water treatment plants, one of the main issues that arises is the extreme energy wastage; however, the many places have come up with green, energy efficient ways of obtaining freshwater.
According to the article, “fresh water available per citizen in the Middle East is just one-seventh the world average, and scarcity is growing. Climate change could shrink rainfall and fresh water availability by 40 percent by 2050.” The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to test different methods of desalinization to determine which is the most energy efficient. They are gravitating towards using solar energy due to the country’s weather patterns.
A company in Australia, the “driest inhabited continent on Earth,” plans to use solar power to turn ocean water into freshwater to irrigate crops. The system also generates heat for plants in specially designed greenhouses in South Australia.
Currently, Texas does have about a hundred inland desalination plants that tap into the state's large stores of brackish underground water, but they rely on coal- and natural gas-fired electricity for energy.” According to Kate Zerrenner, project manager for Environmental Defense Fund, water is used to produce coal energy, so there is no point in using water to make more water. She suggests instead that Texas try using its widely available wind energy combined with solar energy to power the desalinization plants. However, the high costs of desalinization has prevented the development of these projects.
In California, with its devastating drought, many desalinization projects have been suggested, however, all use coal as a source to provide electricity. One plant in central valley uses solar power, but not to generate electricity for the plant: the solar energy is directly harnessed to desalinize water. This process is extremely expensive, but if adopted widely, could provide many people with water. The article also suggests that we lower water usage in general as another solution to drought problems.
A current environmental issue is certainly lack of fresh drinking water, especially in developing countries and in places suffering from drought (often these go hand-in-hand, like in Syria). This article proposes a possible solution to the water crisis, but current methods of desalinization pose the ethical issue of increasing the carbon footprint with fossil fuel emissions. Not only can pollution increase, but the coal industry will be encouraged to grow and devastate more land and increase poverty in places like Appalachia. If renewable methods are used, costs will be high and perhaps take away from other areas where the money could be better spent. Furthermore, if we do desalinize water to get drinking water, the salt levels in the sea will change, and this could harm a lot of ocean wildlife.
I believe that sustainable desalinization could potentially be a good investment in areas where lack of water is a serious problem, such as in California. However, I also believe that water conservation or purification of polluted freshwater using methods similar to sustainable desalinization may be better options. Purifying polluted freshwater would probably have similar costs and would not disrupt saltwater ecosystems. I am not sure how much of a possibility this is, though.
Do you think that desalinization (especially when using renewable energy) should be the next widespread innovation in providing water, or do you think there are better methods we should discover before resorting to desalinization of sea water?