Dubai offers $1 million solar solution prize to tackle water shortage

Employing solar (abundant) to tackle the perennial problem of providing clean water (scarce) in one of the world’s hottest, driest and richest regions – that is the challenge laid down this week by the Dubai ruler and UAE vice president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Speaking at this year’s launch of the UAE Water Aid Foundation, Al Maktoum threw down the gauntlet to some of the world’s leading research institutes to devise a solar-powered solution to tackling the Middle East region’s chief problem – securing a safe, steady and sustainable water supply.

The reward for any successful solar endeavor adopted by the UAE is set at US$1 million, which is sure to turn the heads of solar experts convinced they can be of assistance.

"We are working on searching for durable and radical solutions to the problem of water scarcity using solar energy […] in the process of purification and desalination of water in needy areas around the world," said Sheikh Mohammed. "Therefore, we invite all research institutions around the world to participate in a competition of $1 million to be awarded to people who can find sustainable, cheap and innovative solutions."

The UAE Water Aid Foundation has been launched in order to explore ways to support the production of clean water using solar energy, effectively using an abundant source of energy to power the supply of one of the region’s scarcest natural resources – water.

So far, the Foundation has enjoyed success in drilling hundreds of wells in some of the world’s driest, water-poor regions, and hopes that innovations in solar power can continue to support the Foundation’s work, added Sheikh Mohammed.

Water shortages and solar energy go hand-in-hand in many parts of the world, but very few nations or regions have so far been able to bridge the two resources via solar power. Southern California, which regularly suffers from droughts, is also one of the world’s solar power hotspots, and many experts have already mooted plans and proposals to build large, solar-powered desalination plants in the region to help ease the acute water shortages that have been recorded this year.

According to California’s Department of Water Resources, statewide reservoir volumes have fallen to below 60%, while rain and snow-water levels in the Northern Sierras dipped below 45% in May. Such low water levels have significantly impacted California’s hydropower capacities, reducing output capability by as much as 1.3 GW earlier this year, according to the Californian Independent System Operator.