Here in Arcata, as in most places across the United States, we take our utility services for granted. Our homes and businesses are served with reliable (most of the time) electricity, natural gas, and clean water, but many people in the developing world are not so fortunate. Since 2007, SERC has helped expand electricity access with our work supporting the Lighting Africa and Lumina programs, which are focused on markets for affordable off-grid lighting devices. This past summer, we worked with Cascade Designs to provide clean water access for the developing world.
Cascade Designs manufactures a micro water treatment system called the Smart Electrochlorinator (SE200) that was developed in partnership with PATH, an NGO focused on supporting public health in the developing world. Running on 12 volt power, the device converts a salt solution to bleach that can be used to treat water by institutions and micro-entrepreneurs. Drawing on our experience with off-grid power and the developing world, SERC provided support to the SE200 project in three areas:
We designed and built two prototype solar power kits for the device. One kit (right, top) is designed for installation at a clean water kiosk and provides enough energy to treat up to 9,000 liters of water a day. It also provides some extra energy services that entrepreneurs will need, like LED lighting for their business and the ability to charge mobile phones. The plan is for Cascade Designs to use the kit in a pilot test of the SE200 off the electric grid. The other kit (left, bottom) is designed for mobile applications like disaster relief. It is housed in a rugged, waterproof case (about the size of a small suitcase) and provides enough energy to treat 3,000 liters of water a day.
We made recommendations on sustainable business models for clean water entrepreneurs. As one might expect, we found that significant sales volumes of treated water are needed for entrepreneurs to recoup their initial investment in clean water (and clean energy) technology. There are a lot of unknown factors in this nascent market.
We helped Cascade Designs understand the landscape of carbon financing for clean water technology. The low-tech alternative for water treatment is boiling, which requires a lot of fuel and results in significant greenhouse gas emissions. There is a United Nations Clean Development Mechanism methodology to count carbon credits from low- carbon alternatives, and the SE200 requires about 10,000 times less energy to treat water than boiling – plus, it runs on solar power to boot. Carbon financing could help overcome the cost barrier for many entrepreneurs.
For more information on the SE200 visit www.path.org/projects/ safe-water-electrochlorination.