Will Renewable Energy Help Combat the Looming Water Crisis?
The world is facing a crisis, with 771 million people lacking access to safe water and nearly 1 million dying yearly due to illnesses transmitted through unclean sources.
Experts estimate that half of the Earth’s population could live in water scarcity without intervention by 2025. Science is now evaluating ways to help improve the situation by turning to renewable energy.
About 10% of worldwide water withdrawals and 3% of usage is from the energy sector. Water scarcity and energy production are interconnected, as utilities need power to clean water, especially for city residents, and use water to produce power. However, renewable energy is now being used to reduce the water used in electricity production significantly.
Solar panels are efficient energy producers that do not require water for a cool-down mechanism, unlike power plants. The sun’s rays don’t need water to operate, unlike coal, which uses thousands of gallons. Fracking uses millions.
Researchers estimate that producing energy with renewable sources can reduce the amount of water used in power production by 95%
Another way to create safe water is by using a desalination method. This removes the salt and dirt before transforming it into drinking water.
About 97% of the Earth’s water is found in saltwater sources, so it is natural to look into methods to make that water usable. There are three main processes for desalination.
A solar still is a container that uses the sun's heat to evaporate water, leaving contaminants behind. The vapor is then collected to use as clean water.
Many people don’t use these stills because it takes significant time to produce little water vapor. The average person needs around 3 liters of water daily, but current stills can only produce 0.3 liters an hour.
A researched way to speed up desalination is manually heating the water for evaporation. This can produce more clean water than relying on the sun alone, but it uses nonrenewable energy, which can contribute to the water shortage it's trying to solve.
For these reasons, experts don’t recommend thermal desalination.
Reverse osmosis draws in saltwater, filtering it for potable water and placing the remaining salt and other remnants back into the ocean. This method can produce drinkable water from about half the seawater it collects.
Solar-powered reverse osmosis plants have been active for over a decade, making this a good step forward in creating more safe water.
Another method researchers are evaluating to conserve water is hydrogels.
Hydrogels are polymer mixtures that can attract water molecules from the air. The practice is not new — manufacturers have been using hydrogels for hygiene products for decades. Researchers are now looking into the impact of broadly using hydrogels in agriculture. Collecting water droplets from the air and using them for irrigation would reduce the need to use available water.
Hydrogels have even been experimented with in solar stills to create more water faster.
The reason corporations aren’t using this technology more now is because there is still an environmental impact when used. Most hydrogels are made with non-biodegradable polymers, though scientists are working to create more environmentally friendly gel forms.
Solving the Water Crisis
Countries in need worldwide are already seeing the positive impact of using these methods to collect and conserve water.
These solutions are great ways to eliminate water used in energy production and create more potable water, but they won’t be the sole thing that solves the crisis. It takes everyone to participate in recycling water, educating the public about the issue, and advocating for better collection and access methods.
Using renewable energy is a significant step forward in the fight for clean water.
Author bio: Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the editor-in-chief of
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