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UMass gets money to study wind-powered desalination  

Amherst - The federal government has awarded $100,000 to the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts to explore a partially wind-powered desalination plant that could turn seawater into fresh drinking water.

The study will model the technical and economic aspects of combining wind with more traditional energy sources for powering such plants, which might operate in coastal, windy areas. The model will then be applied in a case study located within the town of Hull.

Desalination is the process of making potable water from seawater by removing most of the salt. Regions with scarce fresh water, such as those in the Middle East and the Caribbean, are familiar with this technology, which is well-developed, but consumes substantial amounts of power. Most “desal” plants operate when water is needed and draw power from a fossil-fired grid. The plant modeled by this study would be powered by both the grid and an independent power source such as the wind.

The Hull municipal power company has already installed one large wind turbine, has a second on order and is also researching the feasibility of an offshore wind farm. The town currently purchases potable water delivered via a pipeline and, at $7 per 1,000 gallons, the cost has a major impact on the town budget and residents. Hull has studied the feasibility of installing its own desalination plant and found that doing so could save significantly on water costs. Using town-owned wind power to provide much of the plant’s needed power will match an abundant local resource, wind, with a critical local need, thus maximizing value to residents and taxpayers.

To ease potential problems related to power availability, which is sometimes variable in the case of renewable energy sources, the study will focus on operating a desalination plant with either electric or water storage that could greatly improve the economic feasibility of such plants.

The study will also examine the impact from an independent power source on a relatively low-voltage grid such as the one at Hull.

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