Looking for New Solar Markets? Think Water.

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Jennifer Runyon

On December 6 at POWER-GEN International, solar experts presented compelling new market opportunities for solar power and distributed energy resources (DERs).

New market opportunities could be exactly what U.S. developers need to find, according to the first speaker, Paula Mints who showed her forecasts for the next five years. Mints said the solar industry is facing headwinds, including the potential solar tariffs that President Trump could impose on solar modules and cells imported into the country; the Secretary Perry Tax, which would impact large-scale solar developers; and tax reform, which could remove some of the subsidies for solar power in the country. Because of those headwinds, her forecasts for the next five years are essentially flat and she said she would probably need to adjust them down.

So if solar won’t be growing in the United States, where should developers look for new markets? One place is in disaster relief. Yung Wong, engineering manager with WorldWater and Solar Technologies explained that when disaster hits, the first thing that the Red Cross and the military do is fly in water bottles. He said that the cost to transport water comes out to about $1.85 per gallon whereas his company can provide drinking water for just a few cents per gallon though a mobile self-sustaining system that purifies water from any source. The system includes 3 kW of solar PV capacity and a 31-kWh deep cycle battery bank and transports as a 7-foot cube.  

Wong said Puerto Rico has about 11 systems in place right now. Systems are also in place in Iraq, Haiti, and Darfur.

Mark Siira, another presenter in the session, showed attendees the results of an 18-month study on the global Energy-Water Nexus (EWN), which was conducted by 45 companies including ABB, Veolia, Rockwell Automation and many others. He believes the results of the study show a huge opportunity for solar and DERs to participate in EWN markets, to the tune of 2,265,000 GWh of power (a number equal to the power output of 140 nuclear power plants or 13 Three Gorges Dams).

The study looked at both how much water is used to make energy and how much energy is used to extract and deliver water on a global scale.  Siira said the EWN market today is worth about $241B and that by 2025 it will be worth more than double that at $496B.  Most of that additional money will be invested in improving the efficiency of water treatment and purification as well as implementing advanced controls at water treatment plants.

“One opportunity that jumped out at us are renewable inverters and microgrid integration to accelerate the integration of renewable resources in the EWN,” he said.

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