Access to clean energy and drinking water are among the primary challenges faced by remote communities in developing countries. Those two problems could now be solved in one stroke now that scientists in Saudi Arabia have developed a solar panel that not only generates electricity but also uses some of the heat energy to distill and purify sea water.

Existing state-of-the-art solar panels face physical limits on the amount of sunlight they can actually turn into electricity. Normally about 10 to 20 percent of the sun that hits the panel becomes power. The rest of this heat is considered waste. The new device, however, makes use of this heat waste to evaporate seawater at relatively low temperatures with the help of a membrane.

The novel technique allowed the researchers to produce three times more water than conventional solar stills while also generating electricity with an efficiency greater than 11 percent. This meant the device was generating nine times more power than had been achieved in previously published research.

According to the authors, if the technology was scaled up and used globally, it could, in theory, produce 10 percent of the total amount of drinking water consumed in 2017.