As the driest inhabited continent in the world and with a burgeoning population, Australia is increasingly relying on salt water desalination to supply fresh water to its 22 million people. Today, the country has the capacity to produce as much as 35 percent of its water through desalination technology, with more than six large-scale plants nationwide.
While desalination enables the country to tap into an over-abundant supply of salt water, it’s an expensive process, requiring extraordinary amounts of energy. For this reason, the country tied many of these plants to wind turbines, creating the largest wind-powered desalination systems in the world.
Forty-eight wind turbines power the desalination plants in Perth, providing as much as 40 million gallons of drinking water each day or 20 percent of Perth’s water consumption. Another 63 wind turbines which came online in 2009 power Sydney’s desalination operation. Additional wind-powered desalination plants are being considered for Salisbury in southern Australia.
According to Neil Palmer is CEO of the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia, a government-funded research and development organization, desalination plays an important role in providing a stable water supply to the people of Australia.
He wrote in a guest article for WaterWorld Magazine, “It’s becoming increasingly recognised by Australian authorities that the continuous base load flow of water from seawater desalination is comparatively cost-effective insurance, dramatically reducing the likelihood of water restrictions and safeguarding water-dependent industries’ ability to maintain operations, provide jobs and support Australia’s growing economy and population.”
He added, “The future for desalination in Australia looks bright indeed.”
Yet with coal providing 85 percent of Australia’s energy demand (not surprising considering Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world), adding energy-intensive desalination plants to the grid is only increasing Australia’s carbon footprint. (Coal fired power plants are the greatest source of man-made CO2 emissions.)