Harvesting water from PV panels

Solar PV is proving rather versatile, we recently heard about redeployable or ‘pop-up’ panels, now another breakthrough in technology is on show: solar power that helps to harness clean drinking water. Known as SOURCE hydropanels, the system extracts moisture from the air to produce up to five litres of clean drinking water on a typical day, with each hydropanel producing enough water to displace more than 20,000 plastic water bottles over 15 years.

Instead of filtering or distributing mains water, SOURCE produces pure water by harnessing the power of the sun and the moisture in the air. The Hydropanel Demonstration Project combines sunlight and air to make, mineralise, and deliver a perfected supply of drinking water right to taps without any electric or piped water input.

The benefits of the technology are abundant, the system can reduce Australia’s dependence on plastics, energy and cost intensive water supply networks while building greater resilience to water scarcity, providing accessible clean drinking water to rural communities with limited access to clean drinking water or electricity, or during droughts.

The SOURCE hydropanels are infrastructure free with no external electricity or water required for operation, and the renewable energy technology is low-maintenance.

ARENA is channelling funds of $420,000 into the $821,500 project being led by US-based Zero Mass Water which will deploy 150 of its solar-powered SOURCE drinking water systems in sites including Sydney, Adelaide, Perth as well as regional towns and remote communities.

The pilot will trial SOURCE in a variety of locations including airports, cafes, community centres, commercial buildings and sustainable properties, and incorporate a third party study to evaluate the environmental impacts of bottled water in Australia.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the SOURCE panels were a unique way of accelerating solar PV innovation in Australia.

“Zero Mass Water’s project will create a product that offers a new application and market opportunity for the solar industry in Australia. Using a combination of solar PV with solar thermal technology, SOURCE’s ability to create clean drinking water could be utilised to achieve positive solutions around water supply,” he said.

He reinforced the potential benefits of this technology to the environment saying “This pilot project can produce reliable drought-resistant water sources to remote communities while simultaneously reducing the amount of plastic bottles that end up in landfill.”

For his part Zero Mass Water’s founder and chief executive Cody Friesen commented that SOURCE hydropanels provide a “renewable, infrastructure-free water solution to the driest inhabited continent on earth.”

In other developments, Latrobe Valley dairy farmers in Victoria could be buying and selling locally generated renewable energy using blockchain, courtesy of $370,000 in ARENA funding for the feasibility study into a Latrobe Valley ‘virtual microgrid’.

The $775,000 project will be led by Brooklyn-based energy company LO3 Energy and focuses on the feasibility of creating a ‘virtual microgrid’ across up to 200 dairy farms, over 100 household consumers and around 20 other commercial and industrial customers in the Gippsland region.

The virtual microgrid will incorporate solar PV, battery storage, smart appliances and enabling technologies combined with the LO3’s Exergy peer-to-peer energy trading platform which uses blockchain technology to allow participants to securely buy and sell locally produced renewable energy.

This marketplace would allow Gippsland farmers to take greater control of their energy use, providing the opportunity to sell their solar power back to the grid, delivering savings on their energy bills.

Participants would be linked in an internet-of-things-based marketplace while using AusNet’s distribution network. Participants would have a combination of solar, battery and smart devices to generate and store energy and manage usage.

Farmers would be able to participate at no upfront cost through loans provided by the Sustainable Melbourne Fund, repaid through council rates.

The study is expected to be completed by end of 2018, and if successful the pilot microgrid could be rolled out in Gippsland in 2019.

The project involves a consortium of partners including AusNet Services, Sustainable Melbourne Fund, Dairy Australia and Siemens.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the feasibility study would be the first step in transitioning one of Victoria’s primary agricultural regions towards renewables, and would be the first trial of a blockchain-based virtual microgrid in Australia.

“With significant increases in distributed energy resources across the network, there is an emerging opportunity to optimise these systems through orchestration.

“The ‘virtual microgrid’ concept brings an alternative approach to these solutions where the control remains with the customers, rather than retailers, who can choose to opt in depending on the current prices and energy types, or their willingness to provide demand response.

“A large focus of LO3’s project is capturing the benefits from avoided network investments combined with optimising energy consumption to significantly improve the economic outcomes and increase the generation sourced from renewable energy for the Latrobe Valley region,” he said.

Brooklyn-based energy company LO3 built and manage the Brooklyn Microgrid, which was the first local energy marketplace to use blockchain. LO3 founder and chief executive Lawrence Orsini describes it a landmark project for the company and the Australian energy industry as it combines a number of innovative technologies to optimise the use of renewable energy.

“As the economy decarbonises and coal generation continues to be retired, wind and solar will increasingly enter the market – but their intermittent generation has created a need for new ways to store and manage energy,” he said.

“This microgrid will showcase solutions for this including battery storage to make greater use of solar energy and demand response in which consumers will be paid for choosing to conserve energy at peak times.”