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Watts and Water

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Electricity and water are invariably linked. Given enough inexpensive power, there will be no shortage of water.

This post is about three technologies. One is the current state-of-the art technology for desalination, one is a potentially more efficient technology for desalinization, and a third is a technology for extracting water from the atmosphere.

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John Benson's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 12, 2019 5:03 pm GMT

These desalination technologies have long seemed like a holy grail for connecting to renewable technologies in areas with lots of sun but low on fresh water, and indeed the business case for such a pairing if/when the technology worked in synch would be undeniable. 

I was interested to reach about all of these technologies you highlight, but I'm curious what level of attention they're getting compared with other general sustainability techs. Do you have any sense where the investment dollars are going?

 

Thanks as always for your well-researched and clearly written contributions, John!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 12, 2019 6:25 pm GMT

"...large nuclear power plants are dying, not because of some grand conspiracy, but because it costs less to produce power with PV plus batteries."

John, not sure why you believe anyone attributes the premature shutdown of nuclear plants to a "conspiracy".  Nuclear plants in California, and elsewhere in the U.S., are being closed because deregulation has made it possible for energy holding companies to bill electricity customers for their gas consumption - fuel they buy from their own subsidiaries, through profitable self-dealing arrangements. Though these arrangements are entirely legal - no grand conspiracy at work - most people who understand them believe they're unethical.

It's obvious you don't understand them,* or that grid-scale batteries, together with solar, wind, or any other "renewable" source, are not remotely capable of providing a reliable source of electricity to a grid (impossible for something that doesn't exist to cost less, isn't it?). Nonetheless, that convenient untruth is being accepted with what can only be described as fundamentalist fervor thanks to what I believe is a pervasive, irrational fear of nuclear energy. Your talk of an Energizer-Bunny-powered grid only reinforces that belief.

*More information here.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Nov 12, 2019 11:53 pm GMT

John,

Good stuff.

One other aspect - as coal plants are replaced by solar and wind the water they previously used becomes available. 

In fact, the massive 2,250MW  Navajo plant will be completely shutdown next week and there are questions about who gets control of all the water the plant previously used.

Navajo Generating Station is closing, and that means an enormous amount of water is up for grabs, a situation that will lead to either a new settlement or more legal battles over the future of the water. 

The water in question is the lion’s share of Arizona’s allotment from the Upper Colorado River Basin: 34,000 acre-feet per year, currently being drawn from the river via Lake Powell. That’s enough to satisfy all of the municipal and industrial uses for all of Pinal County, according to Sarah Porter, director of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy. 

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 13, 2019 12:58 am GMT

"One other aspect - as coal plants are replaced by solar and wind the water they previously used becomes available."

Cute that you think coal plants can be replaced by solar and wind, Joe, but unnecessary anyway. NGS will be immediately be replaced by carbon-free, 24/7 electricity from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a plant in which Salt River Project owns a 17% stake.

Do you think Navajos might want electricity at night like the rest of us, that they might want all the things a reliable supply of electricity can provide? Or did renewables activists imagine Navajos would use candles at night to make bead bracelets for tourists?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Nov 14, 2019 8:42 pm GMT

 NGS will be immediately be replaced by carbon-free, 24/7 electricity from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a plant in which Salt River Project owns a 17% stake.

Bob - great to hear. I didn't realize Palo Verde had expanded its generation by 13 TWh annually. Look forward to seeing that additional carbon free nuclear in AZ stats for 2020.

It will be a great complement to all the solar/storage that NGS owners and Navajo tribe have already built and/or are under construction.

Just wondering - can you send a link on that expansion project? Thanks.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 13, 2019 4:37 am GMT

The fundamental idea that energy-rich cities need never run out of fresh water is very important.

One point that I think was under-emphasized in the article is that large scale desalinization is not some futuristic pipe dream; Israel has used it for years!

See https://www.technologyreview.com/s/534996/megascale-desalination/  and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_and_sanitation_in_Israel 

One thing which is clear from the Israeli experience is that the cost is already plenty low enough for household use.  Of course farmers and golf course owners may not be so happy with the situation.

In the US, a bigger problem than lack of fresh water is drought/rainy cycles.  This hurts the economics of desalinization plants, because no one want to pay for the plant during rainy years.  Of course, then they pay just as much to build canals to bring water from neighboring states.

It should also be said that many sea-side nuclear plants around the world contain mini-desal plants, which are just big enough to supply their own needs.  They could easily be scaled up to supply surrounding communities if desired (household indoor water use is baseload, in the sense that it does not vary much with the seasons or year to year).

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 13, 2019 12:03 pm GMT

One point that I think was under-emphasized in the article is that large scale desalinization is not some futuristic pipe dream; Israel has used it for years!

It should also be said that many sea-side nuclear plants around the world contain mini-desal plants, which are just big enough to supply their own needs.  They could easily be scaled up to supply surrounding communities if desired (household indoor water use is baseload, in the sense that it does not vary much with the seasons or year to year).

Nathan-- it sounds like your experience is that these desalination technologies are already affordable and commercially mature. In these two examples, are there advances on the horizon to look forward to that will make them more attractive? Why aren't they used more widely if they are already in good shape-- is it just that they are used where they are needed and economical and the prices need to drop further to put them in more places?

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Nov 13, 2019 6:39 pm GMT

All: Thanks for the comments.

Where I live (Northern CA) we are spoiled by really low prices for water. Not so much in Southern CA. When a drought comes, local water agencies put major restrictions and use-based tariffs on water, and some residents with wasteful landscaping or other usage get hit with $1,000/month water bills.

Our local water agencies in Livermore have done a good job of recharging our aquifer, so there is no chance of running out of water in a major draught. At one point they looked at a reverse osmosis plant to take brackish water from the lower Sacramento River Delta and desalinate it. The energy cost for reverse osmosis designed for brackish water is significantly lower than for sea water. However, they decided that we really didn't need this capacity.

We do have an extensive gray-water distribution system (purple pipes)  for irrigation and firefighting. This is also offered to residents for their landscaping, so you see a lot of pickups with big plastic tanks in their beds during draughts.

By the way, Bob, my post next Tuesday will be on verification of carbon dioxide sequestration - a rich topic with more sources than I can use.

-John

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