Today’s Solutions: April 23, 2024

The extreme heat of the world’s deserts makes maintaining a water supply and a steady supply of electricity difficult. At The Optimist Daily, we’ve written about optimizing solar panels with agricultural systems before. However, this experimental hybrid system from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology takes it to the next level. 

Water cooling solar, solar producing water

Known as a water-electricity-crop co-production system (WEC2P), this apparatus consists of a series of solar panels, each one fixed above a layer of highly absorbent hydrogel, and these are placed on top of a sloped box with an attached waterspout. 

The box is left open at night which allows the hydrogel to absorb moisture from the air. The box is closed during the day when the solar panels collect energy from the sun. The daytime heat evaporates moisture from the hydrogel which collects on the backs of the solar panels and improves efficiency by preventing excess heating. The water is also collected in the box, extracted via the spout, and can be used for drinking or, in the case of the prototype’s trial run, to water plants. 

Energy, water, and plants from the same device

For two weeks in June in the Saudi Arabian desert, a prototype of WEC2P ran and was able to collect 1,519 watt-hours of electricity and two liters of water. This water was used to hydrate 60 spinach seeds, 57 of which sprouted and grew seven inches. 

“Making sure everyone on Earth has access to clean water and affordable clean energy is part of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations,” says the study’s senior author, Prof. Peng Wang. “I hope our design can be a decentralized power and water system to light homes and water crops.

This system offers a wealth of possibilities for areas that are likely to experience increased heat with a change of climate.

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