One-third of the people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. That’s according to UNICEF and The World Health Organization (WHO), and it is expected that half of the world’s population will live with a water shortage by 2025. Founder and President of GivePower, Hayes Barnard, hopes to help change that.
Back in July of 2018, a nonprofit company called GivePower built a desalinization plant in Kenya in a coastal town called Kiunga. Today that plant is producing 19,800 gallons or 75,000 liters of fresh drinking water every day. That is enough to provide water for around 25,000 people.
Barnard developed GivePower in 2013 as a nonprofit branch of SolarCity. SolarCity ended up merging with Telsa in 2016 but Barnard had already separated GivePower before the merger. He then spent almost two years in San Francisco working on and building a solar-energy power plant that will turn saltwater into freshwater and provide electricity for hopefully millions of people.
The organization mainly focuses on building solar-energy systems that provide electricity for underdeveloped countries. GivePower has installed solar grids in more than 2,650 locations in 17 countries to date. They focus on medical clinics, primary schools, and small villages. In places like Kiunga, Kenya, not having fresh water keeps the girls from attending school. The women are generally the ones who go to find water for drinking. In Africa and parts of Asia, they walk an average of 3.7 miles per day to get this water, which keeps the girls from having the time or the energy to attend school.
This led to Barnard’s idea:
So we thought the next thing would be to bring the water to them. That’s where this idea came from. Could we provide the most affordable, healthy, sustainable water? And at scale?
Desalinization is not a cheap process but, the solar-micro-grid created by GivePower can produce almost 20,000 gallons of fresh drinking water every day. It stores the energy produced in Tesla batteries and uses two parallel pumps, so even if one pump requires maintenance, it can keep running. The cost for locals ends up being a quarter of one cent per liter of water.
Before the system was in place the villagers were resorting to drinking some saltwater which leads to kidney problems. They were also washing their clothes with saltwater.
“It was a really dire situation for this community,” said Barnard. “Children walking around the community with wounds — lesions on their body from washing clothes in saltwater.”
The system took one month to construct and cost $500,000 to build. They hope to generate around $100,000 a year from it and use that money to fund the building of facilities in other locations. Barnard also hopes to cut the costs down and is working on a scaled-down model that would be possible to easily add new pieces like lego blocks.