The energy-water nexus : an analysis and comparison of various configurations integrating desalination with renewable power

Gold, Gary M.
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Water stress is a worldwide reality. Planners and managers of water resources around the world are tasked with finding new, creative, and innovative solutions to challenges posed by growing populations and declining water supplies. Securing safe drinking water, however, has impacts beyond the water sector. In particular, the connection between energy and water must be carefully considered to avoid unwelcome increases in energy consumption as a result of new water management strategies. One strategy that is gaining increasing attention is desalination of brackish groundwater. However, desalination is an energy-intensive process and could have negative impacts in the energy sector if conventional approaches are used. Relying on fossil fuels for desalination could drive up carbon dioxide emissions associated with water treatment and increase the cost required to produce drinking water. Integrating desalination with renewable power sources such as wind and so- lar energy can mitigate concerns regarding the energy intensity of desalination. By coupling water treatment with non-carbon emitting sources of power, it is possible to meet growing water demands in a sustainable manner. At the same time, water pro- duction offers an opportunity to address problems associated with the intermittent nature of wind and solar power production. Desalination is a time-flexible process that pairs well with wind and solar power, two sources of energy that are limited in application by their daily and seasonal variability. Integrating desalination with wind and solar power offers a solution to energetic challenges of water production while using wind and solar power for desalination offers a solution to challenges associated with the intermittent nature of renewable power. Additionally, utilizing photovoltaic-thermal (PVT) solar modules in an inte- grated facility could be advantageous to both the water and solar power production processes. Brackish groundwater, which is at a relatively cool temperature, can be used to cool solar panels, which suffer from losses in efficiency associated with tem- perature increases. At the same time, solar panels can be used to preheat feed water, a process that reduces the energetic requirement for reverse osmosis desalination. Us- ing the temperature difference between brackish groundwater and solar panels to an engineering advantage can be beneficial for the production of both solar power and drinking water. This thesis offers an investigation of desalination powered by wind and solar energy, including a study of a configuration using PVT solar panels. First, a water treatment was developed to estimate the power requirement for brackish groundwa- ter reverse-osmosis (BWRO) desalination. Next, an energy model was designed to (1) size a wind farm based on this power requirement and (2) size a solar farm to preheat water before reverse osmosis treatment. Finally, an integrated model was developed that combines results from the water treatment and energy models. The integrated model uses optimization to simulate the performance of the proposed facil- ity by maximizing daily operational profits. Results indicate that integrated facility can reduce grid-purchased electricity costs by 88% during summer months and 89% during winter when compared to a stand-alone desalination plant. Additionally, the model suggests that the integrated configuration can generate $574 during summer and $252 from sales of wind- and solar-generated electricity to supplement revenue from water production. These results indicate that an integrated facility combin- ing desalination, wind power, and solar power can potentially reduce reliance on grid-purchased electricity and advance the use of renewable power. In addition, this analysis fills a knowledge gap in understanding the advantages and tradeoffs between using wind power, solar power, and a combination of wind and solar power for desali- nation. By providing insight into the potential operations of an integrated facility, the investigation discussed in this report aids to the understanding of the water-energy nexus associated with new sources of drinking water. Results from this thesis indicate that integrating desalination with renewable power provides an opportunity for collaboration that can be mutually beneficial to both the water and energy sectors. In particular combining desalination, wind power, and solar power can overcome challenges associated with each of these technologies and may be preferable to stand-alone water or power producing facilities.