Environment

Solar power not just serves people for access to Electricity but helps solve a water crisis too!

Non-conventional forms of energy have blessed the world with their wide available benefits. Be it their ability to replenish themselves or their sheer attempts to keep the environment clean and green.

However human innovation has not just limited their use to energy production. We have begun to explore different methods to diversify the benefits coming out of these cleaner resources of nature.

One such splendid use of majorly accepted Solar power has been to drive the water filtration, including desalination and pumping units across the world.

Twin Problems, One solution

With water scarcity being one of the most prevalent and threatening issues in India wherein 256 out of 700 districts have been segregated having ‘critical‘ or ‘over-exploited’ groundwater levels, the country is in need of these add-on methods.

Climate change dynamics triggering frequent droughts and swinging weather patterns have made the matter worse as people may eventually find it difficult to even find potable water to drink.

The capital city is even not forsaken.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said: “In view of the rapid urbanization, a major challenge before us is ensuring water for all. We need to find new ways of planning for urbanization.”

“Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about 2,00,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water”.

This dire picture had been depicted well in the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI).

IPCC’s recent revelations regarding irreversible impacts of climate change have even shadowed the earlier hopes with a probable grim future.

A few areas in India particularly lose lives due to dry drought conditions. Maharashtra faces the wrath every year.

The area receives adequate rainfall during monsoon season while the summers are rather dry.

This paired with severe lack of water storage facilities have exacerbated the crisis, i.e., lack of water for agriculture, daily use or even drinking facilities and hence the farmer suicides are common here.

The ones who continue with farming as an occupation, are only left to practice seasonal agriculture and barely survive by the rivulets which often go dry.

Case Story from Botoshi, Maharashtra

“Back in 2016, we did a survey in the area and found out that water scarcity is one of the biggest issues being faced by people in Botoshi,” explains the Project Manager.

People from the village, especially the women, had to travel up and down the hill for meeting their water needs and that too for unfiltered, unpotable and unhygienic water.

“We then collaborated with students from IIT-Bombay and power distribution company, Siemens India, to set up a solar energy-based off grid filtration system in Botoshi.”

“We installed pumps in the wells at the bottom of the hill and laid down pipes which connected them with overhead tanks uphill, in the village.”

One of the women explains: “Earlier, we would fetch water in pitchers and carry it on our heads. But they have now provided us with tanks and relieved us of the burden. We had to search for water earlier, but now we get it filtered right here.”

This saved potential and time helps these ladies to concentrate on other crucial things like children’s health or living an earning.

“It’s a welcome initiative for women. The water would be so contaminated. But now we have filtered water. It’s like someone has literally taken the burden off our heads, making everyone happy.”

This provision of a fundamental resource to survive “for the people” has given an impetus to decentralization and democracy “by the people” as these villagers have fetched the technical training to clean filters, tanks, solar panels and grids to supply water through taps for disbursal.

Access to clean drinking water remains a challenge in several Indian villages and now thankfully, the solution is not only limited to a village.

The solar water purifier, developed by scientists at Maharashtra’s Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan has eliminated the use of electricity or wastage of water.

A research member explains: “Dirty water needs to be filtered with cloth to remove impurities. For instance, most of E Coli is attached with dirt. That’s why muddy water from rivers and canals during rainy season causes diarrhea and typhoid. Basic filtering using cloth filter, followed by heating through solar energy helps remove E. Coli”.

This filtered but non potable water is then stored to be heated using four tubular solar water heaters in the stagnation mode.

“Water in the tubes can go as high as 80 to 90 degrees and it has to be cooled for drinking. Instead of wasting this heat, it can be used for refrigeration to produce ice via an absorption refrigeration system.”

Solar power irrigating the farm lands:

In past since the green revolution, there has been greater understanding of canals and other important irrigation systems. Even local and traditional water harvesting systems like Kuhls in HP, Naula in Uttaranchal, Zabo in Nagaland, Dongs in Assam or Bamboo Drip irrigation in Meghalaya help pour in sustainability.

A variety of developments are beginning to involve the Solar Energy for water pumping used to irrigate the crops but there had been problems with the viability in cost, easy to use or portability of products.

It is ironic that the areas which needs irrigation the most like dry and arid regions and possessing the potential of solar energy face such crisis.

The pumps can thus be equipped with solar cells to transport the water. The solar energy absorbed and generated by these cells is then converted into electrical energy through an attached generator ultimately feeding the electric motor driving the pump.

Farmers can thus just not rely on the traditional irrigation system and emerge out of the need for an electricity grid to pump water.

Eliminating the diesel engines for pumping can help save the emissions, although minor, save farmer’s income that feels threatened with high diesel prices in India.

This is analogous to the solar systems where the source of energy is nearly free with time as there are no longer operating costs, just the maintenance costs remain, appearing as a viable long term investment option for the well being of fields.

Traditional water harvesting systems in India

Stories away from India finding relevance:

Africa is one greater land where water-borne bacteria and viruses cause serious health problems and consequently deaths, upon utter negligence or lack of appropriate medical facilities.

Even the water sourced from natural springs are too high in salt or fluoride content of 60 µg of per liter (40 times the World Health Organization, WHO prescribed limit for human consumption).

Mdori in Tanzania records such a case in complete depth.

The system, as per the parent organization “combines ultrafiltration membranes of about 50 nm in pore size to retain macromolecular substances, particles, bacteria, and viruses with membranes for nanofiltration and reverse osmosis with pore sizes below 1 nm to remove dissolved molecules from the water.”

The shortcoming of cloud cover or lesser production or availability during night has been overcome: “If less power is available, pressure decreases. As a result, less water passes the membranes. The fluoride concentration increases for a short term”.

“The concentration of fluoride and other pollutants, however, is balanced as soon as more water passes the filter again. Hence, the water is completely safe.”

While bare access to clean water is a birth right and core to Sustainable development that every country strives to achieve and fulfil, unfortunately, many souls remain devoid of this natural privilege.

A human cannot aim to survive without it. With rapid climate change and increased migration towards the cities will only worsen the problem, Therefore a sensible and at least long-lasting, environmentally driven approach is the need of the hour.

Alaina Ali Beg

I am a lover of all arts and therefore can dream myself in all places where the World takes me. I am an avid animal lover and firmly believes that Nature is the true sorcerer.

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