Kenya Installs First Solar-Powered Plant That Turns Salty Ocean Water Into Fresh Drinking Water

Kenya Installs First Solar-Powered Plant That Turns Salty Ocean Water Into Fresh Drinking Water

Give Power, a non-profit organization designed a desalination system that can produce 19,800 gallons (75,000 liters) of fresh drinking water every day.

Despite residing on a planet that is covered (71 percent) with water bodies, there are over two billion people who still don't have access to proper drinking water. The contradiction in the availability of this essential element is due to the presence of saltwater which accounts for the majority part of it. For years people have tried to convert this salty water into one that can be consumed, but the processes they came up with were neither affordable nor energy-efficient. But that might appear to be a thing of the past because a newly constructed facility in Kenya might just have found a solution to this problem.


In order to tackle this challenge, a non-profit organization called Give Power designed a desalination system that uses solar energy to pump out fresh drinking water using salty ocean water. The water treatment plant that began operating in July 2018 can produce 19,800 gallons (75,000 liters) of fresh drinking water every day which is enough for 25,000 people. This has considerably improved the lives of residents in Kiunga, a small coastal town in Kenya. Speaking to Business Insider, Hayes Barnard, the president of GivePower said, "You have to find a way to pull water out of the ocean in a sustainable way." 


This isn't the first project that Barnard has undertaken. GivePower actually started in 2013 as a non-profit branch of SolarCity, which is a solar-panel company that Elon Musk founded in 2006. Although the organization did merge with Tesla in 2016, Barnard decided to branch out on his own shortly before that. Now, the NGO mainly focuses on building solar-energy systems to provide electricity across to people residing in developing countries. To date, GivePower has installed solar grids in 2,650 locations, including medical facilities, primary schools, and villages across 17 countries as per the website. 

Source: Give Power

Regardless of the availability of electricity in such places, the limited access to fresh drinking water turned out to be a huge problem for people there, especially women. According to the UN Commission for Human Rights, women and children in Africa and Asia have to walk an average of 3.7 miles per day to procure water. "So we thought the next thing would be to bring the water to bring the water to them," said Barnard. "That's where this idea came from. Could we provide the most affordable, healthy, sustainable water? And at scale?"



While desalination is not a new technology, it does require a lot of power to produce the desired service, thus rendering it expensive. But the organization's solar-microgrid system can produce up to 20,000 gallons of drinking water each day using efficient means. Due to the low cost of production, the company is able to provide one liter of water for about a quarter of one cent. Scientists have warned about saltwater infiltrating freshwater sources due to the rise in the sea level. Although it may sound like a hypothetical situation, it isn't. Back in 2014, an ongoing drought had plagued the lives of the residents in Kiunga. 


Unable to find any proper drinking water, people began drinking seawater from wells which resulted in kidney failures for many. "It was a really dire situation for this community," said Barnard. "Children walking around the community with wounds- lesions on their body from washing clothes in saltwater." The Kiunga facility, GivePower's first project took $500,000 and a month to construct. Now, Barnard doesn't plan on stopping there and hopes to scale the system up by setting up similar facilities all around the globe to provide clean, fresh water to those who are struggling to get it.


He hopes to generate about $100,000 every year to help fund other facilities in other places. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, about one-third of the world's population doesn't have access to safe drinking water. By 2025, nearly half of the people worldwide are expected to live in water-stressed cities. Today, cities like Chennai, India; Cape Town, South Africa; and Beijing, China are already experiencing the results of their diminishing water supplies.

Recommended for you