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Solar Rich and Water Poor: The Case for Solar Desalination in El Paso, Texas

Authors: William Delgado*, University of Texas - Austin, Timothy Beach, The University of Texas at Austin, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, The University of Texas at Austin
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Energy, Economic Geography
Keywords: desalination, solar energy, water resources
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Desalination is an increasingly important water source for the sunny, arid city of El Paso, Texas. As the city’s population grows, El Paso Water, the city’s water utility has had to drill deeper into the Hueco Bolson aquifer, a primary water source for El Paso. But, deeper drilling into the Hueco Bolson has yielded progressively more saline water. In response, El Paso Water and administrators from Fort Bliss jointly constructed a reverse osmosis desalination plant to protect the Hueco Bolson’s freshwater supplies and expand the city’s water sources. Reverse osmosis water desalination, however, is an expensive, energy-intensive process currently dependent on carbon-heavy fossil fuels. But, solar energy is an abundant, carbon-free energy source that could potentially reduce the energy costs and carbon footprint of the reverse osmosis desalination process. We hypothesize that building a solar microgrid that supplies El Paso’s desalination plant with energy in tandem with the regional grid will reduce the plant’s energy expenditures in the long term compared to solely buying energy from the regional grid. We used the HOMER model created by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The results suggest that a solar microgrid whose modules use one axis tracker could reduce the plant’s energy expenses.

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