Researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia have invented a device that can produce solar electricity while simultaneously purifying water.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, Professor Peng Wang explains how the device can distil potable water without compromising electricity generation performance. It does this by using the waste heat from a photovoltaic (PV) panel as energy for the water distillation process – typically, up to 90% of the energy generated is thermal waste.
According to the team, the water production rate of the unit is three times higher than that of a conventional solar still, and the PV panel generates electricity with an efficiency higher than 11%, which is the same as without the water distillation.
The ability to produce electricity from sunlight and purify water at the same time means this is an innovation that its creators say could simultaneously solve two serious problems that third world nations face.
The device offers a way to bring energy and clean water to communities that lack access to utilities, which could be as many as 780 million people worldwide.
The generated clean water can be used to clean the solar panel, irrigate crops and create drinking water. The article says: “The device thus has potential to transform the conventional power plant from a huge water consumer to an electricity-plus clean water co-producer and to make a meaningful contribution to the currently very stressed water-energy nexus.”