Renewable Energy May Provide the World’s Most-Needed Resource

by | published February 8th, 2011

Wars are more likely to be fought over it than any other single commodity. The lack of it remains the single greatest cause of famine, disease, and early death in many parts of the world.

Yet some 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by it…

I’m talking, of course, about water.

There’s plenty out there. The challenge has been to efficiently desalinate seawater and brackish water to make it fit for human consumption. This is especially a problem in those areas without access to ready sources of conventional power. Further inland, the problem is brackish, polluted, or contaminated water.

Both paint a bleak picture for the prospects of populations throughout the world.

Enter Spectra Watermakers…

This private company, based in San Rafael, California, has been in the reverse osmosis and energy recovery pump business since 1976.

Reverse osmosis is the well-known process of filtering solutions (like water) to exclude larger molecules and ionized particles – such as salt and contaminants. It has been used for many years aboard ships and yachts, where fresh water supply is limited

However, the company’s technology also does something else (and this is the real reason I have an interest in it)…

Spectra is a leader in utilizing solar and wind power to do what it does.

Therein lies the merging of two major elements – a worldwide need and the renewable energy to attend to it.

And I have had some direct experience that speaks to just how important this approach could be.

Access to Water Is A Question of Survival

Last year while in Uganda to advise on developing the oil discovery there (“The Next ‘Crude Rush’ Is Officially Underway,”), I witnessed firsthand what the lack of clean water means for a population. Despite significant lake systems on both sides of the country, the water is unusable.

The result is people being forced to use unfit water for everything essential to their survival.

Unfortunately, it is that survival that is often put at risk…

You don’t have to be by the seashore to understand the impact of what companies like Spectra are doing.

This is not simply about desalination. Nor is it simply about the condition of the water.

There is also the need for a fuel source to power the reverse osmosis pump.

That usually puts a premium on diesel fuel to generate electricity on site, making it unattainable for many of the populations that most desperately need the water – either because of its scarcity or its price.

And there is also the increasing carbon footprint and environmental concerns arising from the energy source used.

This brings us back to Spectra.

Renewable Sources Eliminate the Fuel Problem

By employing solar or wind power for its pumps, Spectra eliminates the fuel problem. It allows the process to be brought directly to the people who need it most.

The company’s newest high-pressure pump (the SP-20 Pearson Pump) is a major step toward providing an energy-efficient reverse osmosis method to desalinate seawater and treat otherwise undrinkable water on land.

It combines feed water pumping and energy recovery into a single unit, allowing for the recapture of as much as 80% of the energy wasted in conventional systems.

Now – to put this in perspective – earlier versions of these pumping systems utilizing solar power could produce about 3,000 gallons of fresh water per day. The new process can increase that amount by 30%.

And the system’s higher efficiency brings energy requirements down to about 2.1 kiloWatt hours per 1,000 liters – a major advance over earlier approaches.

Spectra’s current version of the pumping process (the SP-5) is used in a number of challenging locations around the world: Afghanistan, Australia, Chile, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and the South Pacific, among others.

The new SP-20 version, after having endured two years of tough lab testing, was introduce in late January and will be field-tested over the next several months.

This is a private company, but both the technology and the combination of reverse osmosis and renewable energy will be catching on. At that point, Spectra becomes a prime takeover target, as the same approach starts to look very appealing to some of the bigger boys.

You can be certain I’ll keep on eye on that situation.

Localizing the Purification Process Can Save More than Money…

There is one final game-changer in this.

As the water supplies in some of Earth’s most densely populated areas come under greater stress – from contamination, saltwater intrusion, and the breakdown in aging water distribution infrastructure systems – one desirable alternative is to localize the water purification process.

Approaches like Spectra’s SP-20 system allow the use of smaller units without the need for a centralized administrative structure. In that way, the capital intensity of addressing the problem is reduced considerably…

…and so are with the deaths and sickness caused by the lack of clean water.

This looming crisis and the associated issues are vast and complex, but part of the solution could lie within a decentralized, non-municipal, distributed water system of smaller plants. Building a distributed infrastructure is less capital-intensive, and can be constructed on an incremental basis.

This model is more easily powered today by renewable energy sources, reducing the cost of energy transmission and its associated infrastructure, while simultaneously reducing its carbon footprint. Projects such as these are being built in developing countries and remote areas that do not have an existing infrastructure and lack access to a clean water supply.

This localized concept, however, has advantages that apply anywhere.



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  1. Greg
    February 8th, 2011 at 11:47 | #1

    Nice information but why tell us about a private company which we cannot invest in?

  2. John Walker
    February 8th, 2011 at 11:51 | #2

    Kent your article made me think about another possible source. Coal or oil fired generating plants do one of the most energy intensive parts of making distilled water, creating the steam. I wonder how much it would take to use the spent steam run through some piping to create distilled water along with the electric power that is generated in many countries where clean water is a problem. I know there are power generating plants in areas of the world where water is a problem.

    Just a thought

  3. Dan
    February 8th, 2011 at 11:52 | #3

    Hi Kent,

    I think you left something out here… you said 2.1 kilowatts per thousand litres? 1000 litres is a gross amount, and 2.1 kilowatts is a rate of enery usage. Is it 2.1 kilowattHOURS of power per thousand litres, or is it 2.1 kilowatts per 1000 litres/HR (or some other unit of time)? Thanks,


  4. February 8th, 2011 at 12:02 | #4

    Very interesting.

    I’ve been interested in exactly this for many years. For the last three years I’ve had money to invest and have been looking for just this kind of company to buy in – for the long term

    How do we invest in this technology now? Is it still too early?

  5. Robert Cummins
    February 8th, 2011 at 12:05 | #5

    Hello Kent,

    Thank you for the information. I agree with you that renewables will better serve us by allowing the distribution or localized concept for electrical power to address many problems. What happened to “Bloom Energy”? Last year this company demonstated the capability to create bread box size power for the home and office. The technology could run using Natural Gas or other biofuels. And had a very high effeciency rate for conversion to electricity.

  6. george
    February 8th, 2011 at 12:52 | #6

    The importance of water does not require rocket science to confirm it’s role in life . The question is which of the “available ” companies best fulfills the supply

  7. Donald J Gnaedinger
    February 8th, 2011 at 13:29 | #7

    I was watching something from Newt Gingrich that indicated that all the wind farms and all the solar at this time does not even add up to one percent of all the power generated in the world today. How much good is it to put money in these things for a person who is 79 years old today. Where do you have information for me on things that will pay off in the short term.

  8. February 8th, 2011 at 14:13 | #8

    Hello Kent

    Your article is just the solution needed for most African Countries,
    particularly Nigeria where i reside.My company will like to link up
    with this company with a view to import this technology to help
    alleviate the double problem of access to clean water and the lack of
    resources(money) by over 70% of the polulation.

    Thanks for a good job.

  9. F. Sopron
    February 8th, 2011 at 14:36 | #9

    I wonder about companies that may be processing water used to recover oil and gas in the shale fields. Is water recapture and decontaminating taking place in these areas? Without it, I would think there would be limitations on the amount of oil that can be recovered without endangering the local water supply, especially wells and aquifers. Are there any names that would be worth considering? Are there OFS companies that minimize the quantity of water used?

  10. allan
    February 8th, 2011 at 14:58 | #10

    Enjoy reading your very interesting and up-to-date information.
    Keep it coming!

  11. David Stone
    February 8th, 2011 at 18:18 | #11

    Kent, how does ERII figure into this? They have extraordinary desalination technology that recovers, for re-use, most of the energy needed for the process. Considering what they provide, their stock price has been surprisingly flat.

  12. C, ADKINS
    February 8th, 2011 at 20:15 | #12


  13. Lum Loy
    February 8th, 2011 at 21:25 | #13

    Greg, you’re not being told about “a private company in which you cannot invest”. You’re being told about a sane solution to a widespread problem. This is valuable info if you can move past “What does a private company do for me? And why don’t you solve my problem (find me an investment) before I’ve even asked for a solution?
    How you use valuable info is up to you. But don’t shoot the messenger because the message wasn’t personal rapture handed over on a silver platter. Think, instead of demanding.

  14. Sailor Jo
    February 9th, 2011 at 01:43 | #14

    You say, with a better background, what I am demanding since years. Use solar for cleaning water. We may even be able to replenish glaciers and keep the oceans from rising. The US is so proud of entrepreneurs and inventors. Where are they?

  15. st kay
    February 9th, 2011 at 07:17 | #15

    Much the same as what Spectra is doing , there is a private company in Australia which has a clean coal process which provides for a clean transport, heating and power generation fuel .

    The same inventor also has the only cost-efficient solution for the storage of wind and solar power.

    At pilot plant stage,both of the above have been proven. What the world needs now is to have them commercialised.

    Kudos to Spectra for making its contribution to the what the world so obviously and desperately needs .

  16. February 9th, 2011 at 20:55 | #16

    Dr Moors, I really appreciate the time and effort you take putting this blog together. We invest actively in the water, energy, agri, resources space and have found your insights very thought and action provoking. I would appreciate further info and contact with you.
    Anric Blatt
    Global Fund Exchange
    The Earth Wind & Fire Fund

  17. Henri
    February 11th, 2011 at 04:55 | #17

    Hi Kent,
    you wrote ‘And the system’s higher efficiency brings energy requirements down to about 2.1 kilowatts per 1,000 liters’ . The association of units doesn’t make sense.
    Did you mean kilowatt-hours per 1000 liters?

  18. February 11th, 2011 at 12:37 | #18

    Editor’s Note: Henri and Dan, thank you both for pointing out our error. Indeed, Spectra’s new pump brings desalination energy requirements down to an impressive 2.1 kiloWatt hours (kWh) per 1000 litres of water.

  19. Richard M Wilson
    February 14th, 2011 at 08:51 | #19

    Your readers interested in this article might also investigate Entech Solar. Before merging into Entech, the previous company sold a system called MaxPure, a mobile solar based water purification system. The US Army bought several of these for installation in Iraq for agricultural purposes. I can’t tell you about the cost and efficiency but it’s worth an inquiry. I believe Entech still markets this system.

  20. February 16th, 2011 at 10:29 | #20

    .SAN RAFAEL Calif. April 21 2010 Spectra Watermakers Inc. a leading Northern California manufacturer of energy-efficient reverse osmosis RO sea water desalination systems and energy recovery pumps for the marine and land-based water treatment business announced the successful life testing of their latest high-pressure energy recovery pump. The next model in the Pearson Pump line is performing at less than 2KWH of energy per Ton of fresh water from sea water said Bill Edinger president of Spectra.

  21. Adriaan van Gennep
    February 22nd, 2011 at 16:02 | #21

    You can ???!!! This were the words of your President some years ago. We have invented the first and real working machine with flash-pyrolyse to eleminate household, industrial and agro waste materials and converting it into bio-oil. The capacity is 5 ton/hour and the converted into 3500 kg of bio oil. When we connect a steam generator to our installation it is possible to manufacture 1.5 MW electrical power and 3.5 MW thermal power, and,,,to produce fresh drinking water as well, all out of garbage. So there are many inventions to invest in on short term. We are looking for investors on each continent and busy to make a global start for introduction and sales (perhaps on exploiting ourself) because the return of investment is 1 year gross and 2 years nett of each machine. Because each machine shall generate between 7.000.000 and 17.000.000 euro’s each year, depend of country, input and local conditions. Information ;

  22. Sam Makanjuola
    March 7th, 2011 at 16:11 | #22

    How do i make contact with Dr.Kent Moors or the Editor with a view to
    obtain more information on some of this new and amazing cutting edge
    tech. companies .

    Thank you and Best Regards
    Sam Makanjuola

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