Puerto Ricans in the coastal town of Loíza have looked to an MIT invention to get their water supply flowing again. Serving 600 Puerto Ricans, the solar plus water purification system produces 850 gallons of clean drinking water daily, with rooftop rain barrels as storage.

The solar panels used are a rollable thin-film product.

The equipment deployed is a modified version of the off-grid solar water purification system developed by the Roddenberry Foundation. The kit is called the WARP system (Water Aid and Renewable Power System). MIT Lincoln Laboratory worked with Infinitum Humanitarian, GeoInnovation and Energy Systems Group to refine it so it would be more suitable for deployment in the current Puerto Rico situation – replacing it’s tri-fuel generator with a solar powered one, and removing the need for batteries. The system was up and running within five days of the organization first visiting the site.

Erik Limpaecher, of Lincoln Laboratory, saw the batteries had to go because of unique disaster conditions:

Traditional off-grid solar power systems are designed to be used with batteries; but batteries require maintenance, they’re heavy and expensive, they don’t perform well in hot temperatures, they require additional power conversion gear, and they can be dangerous.

All of these variables weighed much more than a standard solar installation due to the isolation of the region. Erik thought to replace the standard batteries with a storage container and refined wiring for the water purification – sizing the system to meet local needs in the daytime alone.

The device runs smoothly when the sun is out, producing 1500 watts of power and filling up a 600-gallon food-safe storage tank which provides clean water during night time. Each system costs, about $30,000 each for components, assembly, shipping, team travel, installation, certification, and ongoing maintenance.

The solar panels were described as – ‘copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar cells. CIGS mats are waterproof, thin, and extremely durable. CIGS mats also work well at sunrise and sunset, and offer a high-power output even when part of the mat is in shade.’

The solar panels were manufactured by Global Solar, an Arizona company. The solar panels look like they’re 11.4-12.7% efficiency. The 300W units weighs about 20 pounds.

The full version of the hardware has been deployed in Haiti, Nepal and the Phillipines.

The Roddenberry Foundation was founded in 2010 by Rod Roddenberry, son of none other than Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek franchise. The Roddenberry Foundation funds innovative solutions to critical global issues in science and technology, the environment, education and humanitarian advances.

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