Distributed desalination using solar energy: A technoeconomic framework to decarbonize nontraditional water treatment
Desalination using renewable energy offers a route to transform our incumbent linear consumption model to a circular one. This transition will also shift desalination from large-scale centralized coastal facilities toward modular distributed inland plants. This new scale of desalination can be satisfied using solar energy to decarbonize water production, but additional considerations, such as storage and inland brine management, become important. Here, we evaluate the levelized cost of water for 16 solar desalination system configurations at 2 different salinities. For fossil fuel-driven plants, we find that zero-liquid discharge is economically favorable to inland brine disposal. For renewable desalination, we discover that solar-thermal energy is superior to photovoltaics due to low thermal storage cost and that energy storage, despite being expensive, outperforms water storage as the latter has a low utilization factor. The analysis also yields a promising outlook for solar desalination by 2030 as solar generation and storage costs decrease.