Much of the Earth’s land is dry with very little water to support vegetation let alone agriculture. Desertification has made the scarcity of water even more problematic. Desalination activities to obtain fresh water through removal of salt from salt-water sources have often been implemented but are themselves faced with numerous difficulties. Desalination is cost and energy intensive and requires skilled labour for plant operation. All of these tend to be in short supply in many arid regions. A highly qualified consortium of scientists from Africa, Europe and the Middle East decided to provide a solution to the problem. With EU funding of the OPEN-GAIN project, researchers built a prototype plant in Tunisia for electricity and water co-generation such that desalination activities essentially have their own energy supply. The plant relies on renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind. It also supports a diesel generator for cases in which fluctuations in supply and demand make the renewable sources insufficient. Cost is optimised through extensive automation, which also helps to overcome the issue of skilled labour in short supply. An Energy Management System (EMS) that takes into account time-varying demand as well as weather forecasts makes the system both efficient and cost effective. Aside from the actual plant prototype, intermediate results are exploitable in their own right. Plant design support software as well as a library for simulation of the desalination process are both tools that can help engineers and planners save time and money in a variety of environments. OPEN-GAIN’s prototype desalination plant for remote arid regions has the potential to significantly impact lives, livelihoods and societies in regions characterised by water scarcity – in other words, one third of the world’s land area.
Optimal engineering design for dependable water and power generation in remote areas using renewable energies and intelligent automation
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8 June 2018