French forces unite to develop solar PV desalination plants

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Akuo Energy, a leading French independent renewable power producer, and Mascara Renewable Water, a French start-up specializing in water treatment using solar power, have signed a partnership to develop water desalination plants powered with renewable energy.

Details of their plans are thin on the ground, with a press release simply stating that “a number of geographical regions” will be focused on, including Southeast Asia, the Middle East and part of the Indian Ocean. A spokeswoman for Akuo Energy further told pv magazine the two partners “don’t have any project to communicate about yet.”

The move is significant, however, since it combines the experience of Akuo Energy, which is active across the whole solar value chain, including in project development, financing, construction and operation; and Mascara Renewable Water’s new technology, which powers the production of water with energy from PV panels.

In January, pv magazine reported on Mascara’s pilot project in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, which uses a 30 KW off-grid solar PV system to power the desalination water process. Another similar project utilizing the company’s so-called reverse osmosis desalination technology, has been in operation in French Polynesia since early 2017.

Mascara’s technology can provide even remote communities with drinking water at a competitive price – 50% of a desalination plant’s lifetime costs reportedly come from energy consumption – and without any CO2 emissions. A challenge, however, will be adding a battery to the system, thus allowing it to work non-stop.

Acute problem

Water desalination is an acute problem, specifically in the Middle East, where very large amounts of fossil fuel-generated power are used for the process, thus making it a dirty business. The solar PV industry has been calling for the region to embrace solar desalination plants to make the process carbon-free. Given that the Middle East is recently seeing record-low prices for new solar plants, it is possible that some regional governments can take the idea seriously.

On the contrary, solar water desalination is the only solution for off-grid communities, like the one in Indonesia, which is set to be powered by Akuo Energy via a 1.2 MW hybrid plant.