The Finnish company Solar Water Solutions (SWS) has reached an agreement with Kitui County in Kenya to use solar power to desalinise brackish coastal water.
Desalination is a viable option to provide access to water for coastal settlements in areas where freshwater is scarce, but it is a technology usually associated with high energy costs and a high carbon footprint. SWS technology promises freshwater supplies based on zero emissions and zero running costs: the desalination plants are containerised and use reverse osmosis technology powered by solar panels.
The units are linked to an automated teller machine (ATM) which enables payment by phone, a payment system used widely in Kenya. The project is financed by Climate Fund Managers, a blended finance fund manager created through a joint venture between Dutch development bank FMO and South African financiers SANLAM group.
Under the project, valued at $15 Million USD, up to 200 containerised units will be transported to Kitui in south-eastern Kenya, a county with a population of 1.1 million. Upon completion it is envisaged that the installed systems will have a joint capacity of 1,500 m³ per day, enough to supply water to some 400,000 residents. Currently, approximately 42% of the population draw water from unprotected sources such as local streams and rivers, and 13 % of the population access water from boreholes, which is contaminated by fluoride and salts.
All the coastal counties in Kenya have levels of water demand that far exceed local supply. Despite progress in infrastructure development, population growth and urbanisation provide challenges for county water managers. Desalination of brackish water from boreholes or of sea water is commonly used in the Middle East and along the Mediterranean, but it does also have adverse environmental effects. The primary environmental consequence is the production of highly concentrated brine which needs to be disposed of. As such, scientists have pointed out that planning and monitoring of pilot phases of such projects can be key in determining the safest means of brine disposal.