When Disaster Strikes
Around the globe, Water Mission provides safe water—and hope—to those who desperately need both. From responding to the emergency need for safe water in the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster, to building the long-term water infrastructure that can sustain a remote community, their efforts get safe water flowing and help communities rebuild.
Earlier this year, we profiled Water Mission’s work in Western Tanzania where the organisation’s ongoing relief efforts provide clean water to thousands of residents displaced by violent political unrest and economic decline in neighbouring countries. While Water Mission’s achievements in developing nations are nothing short of remarkable, in this article, we turn our focus toward their equally compassionate disaster response efforts.
The stark reality of disaster response is that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Each situation is unique, and therein lies the true value that Water Mission brings to the communities they serve each day. Their experience and advanced engineering acumen effectively align resources with the optimal solution for each challenge.
Hurricane Dorian: One Year Later
In September 2019, within a week of the devastating effects from Hurricane Dorian that left an estimated 70,000 people homeless in the Bahamas, Water Mission’s disaster response and engineering teams were on the ground supporting local communities. Intense flooding from the storm had led to saltwater contamination of local water sources, while stored-water supplies were ruined from Dorian’s 6-metre surge and sustained 300-km/h winds. With no viable freshwater sources, Water Mission deployed reverse osmosis systems, a specialised water purification process used to filter contaminants from saltwater, producing nearly 3.8 million litres of safe water for local residents.
Water Mission’s mobile water treatment systems arrive in the Bahamas.
In the months following the hurricane, the local municipal water operator, Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) sought to rebuild their infrastructure for the long term—turning to solar power as the means to provide greater resiliency against future natural disasters. In the Marsh Harbour community in the Abacos, Water Mission worked closely with WSC to design and construct a 120-kW solar installation for their well fields, along with a 216-kW system for their pumping station. The installations are part of Water Mission’s “build back better” approach aimed at rebuilding critical island infrastructure. Additional safe-water projects in the region include rain catchments with treatment systems in six area schools that provide reliable, safe solar water solutions for children as they return to school.
The Marsh Harbour solar-powered pumping projects provide resiliency in the face of future storms, incorporating power blending between the electrical grid and the solar to run more efficiently. When the projects are fully completed, WSC estimates it will see a 33% reduction in electricity sourced through Bahamas Power and Light in the Marsh Harbour area. Both installations are scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2020.
The installation in the Marsh Harbour well fields will be one of the largest solar water solutions in the Bahamas, providing residents with a strengthened water system that can better withstand future storms.
Solar-powered Micro-grids Help Puerto Rico Rebuild Following Hurricane Maria
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, hundreds of rural communities lost access to functional water supplies due to severe power outages from the storm. Water Mission focused their immediate response on reconnecting existing water systems to generators to get safe water flowing again. However, for many communities, solar was the logical solution to their long-term need for reliable energy. Independent solar micro-grids were constructed to support solar-pumping solutions and reduce the dependency on the island’s electrical grid.
Water Mission’s role in returning safe water to communities throughout Puerto Rico was critical to the survival of thousands of residents.
In total, Water Mission was able to serve more than 39 communities throughout Puerto Rico, installing more than 1,600 solar panels capable of producing more than 500 kW of power. On average, each community uses 64 kWh of solar-generated electricity each day, which translates to more than 900,000 kWh of annual electricity generated by Water Mission’s efforts throughout Puerto Rico. With the average local price of electricity at $0.24/kWh (USD), these installations represent electricity cost savings of nearly $220,000 each year.
Should these communities face another natural disaster, these solar water solutions are built to allow residents to quickly disassemble the arrays and set them back up when the danger passes. In the event that the island’s electrical grid is damaged from the storm, they’ll be able to use solar power to restore their safe water and sanitation systems within hours. As an added measure of resiliency, some systems have been outfitted with battery storage to further mitigate system downtime.
Solar That Can Weather the Storm
Just like in Tanzania, Water Mission has entrusted many of these critical solar water solutions in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas to the high reliability and durability of SunPower Performance solar panels. Backed by more than 35 years of solar leadership and experience, SunPower Performance panels are built on an innovative shingled cell design that eliminates many of the reliability challenges of conventional solar panels.1 “Conventional Panel” is a panel made with Conventional Cells. “Conventional Cells” are silicon cells that have many thin metal lines on the front and interconnect ribbons soldered along the front and back.
Communities in diverse regions throughout the world depend on Water Mission’s water treatment systems—so any solar technology providing power to these systems must not only be reliable, it must be able to withstand the most extreme conditions. SunPower Performance panels are engineered with materials innovations that range from advanced encapsulants to aerospace-grade conductive adhesives that protect cells and minimise power loss from exposure to harsh environments—including arid deserts, wet and humid rain forests, and windy coastlines.
Every day, the lack of safe water deprives millions of people of good health, education, and opportunities to provide for their families. Water Mission is building a legacy as both a visionary non-profit engineering organisation and a solar pioneer. Day in and day out, their efforts to provide safe water through hard work and leading-edge innovation help people in some of the most remote regions of the world live safer, healthier lives.
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