In considering large-scale strategies to fix climate change, it turns out that the lowest-risk, lowest-cost, and most politically feasible strategy is the massive global reforestation of 3 billion acres.
To concretely prove out key technologies and costs, we have recently completed construction of the world’s largest fully off-grid 100% solar-powered desalination facility. There are other larger desalination plants, but they are all grid-tied and/or reliant at least partially on fossil fuels. In contrast, we are completely independent and 100% powered by solar energy.
Our facility comprises a half -acre of solar panels rated at roughly 128 kW total generating power and 300 kWh of battery storage. It is designed to produce 128,000 liters/day (34,000 gallons/day, or 128 m3/day) of freshwater, more than enough to irrigate the entire property. The facility is off the grid, so we have created our own electrical and water utility.
Recent cost improvements in solar mean that green desalination is now feasible. The significance of this cannot be understated, because desalination is uniquely suited to using solar power, as it avoids the solar intermittency issue.
The area of North Kohala where our project is located used to be covered with an ancient sandalwood forest, from the mountains to the shore. Hundreds of years ago, the entire forest was cut down to supply the profitable sandalwood trade and the region never recovered. It remains a desert to this day.
As of December 2019, we have been working on this project for about 2 years and have reached the final phases of full system-wide integration testing. We’ve produced hundreds of thousands of gallons of freshwater and begun to regreen the surrounding land, and have begun the planting of anchor tree species. Our facility is located on the Big Island of Hawaii, where the freshwater now enables us to begin restoration of the lost sandalwood forests on the western slopes of the Kohala region.
Biomes are self-sustaining. If you deforest a region and make it a desert, it stays a desert. If you reforest a region, it will actually sustain itself too: plants cool the atmosphere and bring water. This means that if we can reforest a region and irrigate it until the trees are mature, we can re-create a self-sustaining forest.
Our project is just a small beginning within the entire North Kohala region. Successfully reforesting this part of it would show that it can be done — not just here, but in deserts and other marginal land around the world.
There have been many projects over the past few decades where determined individuals or communities were able to reclaim a desert. The technologies we are employing here demonstrate a full end-to-end system that can be replicated worldwide.
Reforestation aided by solar-desalinated irrigation is likely to be the lowest-cost and lowest-risk method of mitigating or reversing the effects of climate change at scale. It can be done by communities and people everywhere, and in a very decentralized manner.
If you are in the area and would like to drop by for a tour or have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.