Many in the community believe that additional anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere can push the Earth into a vicious cycle and down a path of no return. Consequently, solar energy must sit at the center of the water–energy–climate nexus as the world is shifting into a decarbonized and circular economy. Simultaneous production of electricity and fresh water by photovoltaic-membrane distillation (PV-MD), a newly developed technology, turns waste heat from solar PV panels into a power source to drive an efficient water distillation process. It produces fresh and clean potable-quality water on-site from various water sources with impaired quality, such as seawater, contaminated rivers, lakes, groundwater, and industrial wastewater. Due to the low barrier of entry, it is well suited to providing both electricity and fresh water in decentralized manner for point-of-consumption locations, especially off-grid communities and communities with small- to medium-sized populations even with challenging economic conditions. This essay highlights the potential of PV-MD to supply decentralized water and electricity for regions suffering from both economic and physical water scarcity as well as its promise to contribute to agriculture in (semi)arid regions.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: The authors are grateful to Virginia Unkefer at Research Operations Office at KAUST for her comments on the essay.