Sustainable freshwater supply in New Caledonia through solar desalination
Dutch organisation Elemental Water Makers and partners set up an energy-efficient desalination solution that provides a clean and reliable fresh water supply to two municipalities of New Caledonia, La Foa and Taanlo. With this green solution for desalination, municipalities now have a water treatment process free of chemicals that requires 70% less electricity and produces 44 cubic metres of fresh water per day.
New Caledonia, a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific, it is known for its palm-lined beaches and marine-life-rich lagoon. Despite being surrounded by water, the availability of water resources is an issue of growing concern in New Caledonia and is one of the top priorities for the country's water sharing policy.
The supply, distribution and management of water falls within the competence of New Caledonia’s municipal authorities, who can either choose to keep this service to consumers under local government control or decide to call on a specialised company with whom they conclude a contract delegating the task of providing the service. The municipalities of La Foa and Taanlo opted for the latter and, after a tendering process, relied on Elemental Water Makers (EWM), a Dutch organisation, and their local partners to set up a clean water supply using efficient solar desalination.
Off-grid seawater desalination
Their request was clear – a proven overall solution to turn seawater into clean water in an off-grid manner on a relatively small scale. As the CEO of EWM Sid Vollebregt recalls, “the energy efficiency and environmentally friendly approach was important for the municipalities, leading to the overall lowest cost of ownership.”
These projects were appointed at the end of 2022. After the municipalities had released the official documentation and provided the official confirmation, EWM and their partners started the process by confirming the exact set-up on-site that resulted in a final system design and producing the equipment. Whereas local New Caledonian partners took the lead on the civil works and contributed to the local operation and support, EWM delivered two off-grid solar-powered seawater desalination solution to safeguard sufficient clean water. “The collaboration with the partners was excellent and the scenery was pristine,” adds Vollebregt.
Minimising negative environmental impact
EWM's desalination solution has several advantages. By using only solar energy, no fossil fuels are involved in the normally fossil-intensive desalination industry. In addition, EWM’s energy-efficient desalination solution consumes 70% less electricity and produces 44 cubic metres of fresh water per day. The entire water treatment process has been redesigned so as not to use any chemicals to operate and maintain the unit. And lastly, the concentration of salt in the saltwater flow leaving the process is minimised to avoid negative impacts on the environment. This will help the municipalities to safeguard its water resources for generations to come.
As New Caledonia has several more rural municipalities that lack access to clean water, EWM and their partners expect to replicate their efforts and increase access to fresh water from only the sea and sun. According to Vollebregt, “the entire Pacific region faces similar challenges, and it is beneficial to have completed projects to showcase in the portfolio. Elemental believes that all Small Island Developing States (SIDS), who are on the forefront of climate change, will need to become more adaptive to a decline in rainfall, and we trust that using only the sea and sun in an affordable way will lead to an increase in their order portfolio.”