Where does solar-aided seawater desalination make sense? A method for identifying sustainable sites

Emily A. Grubert, Ashlynn S. Stillwell, Michael E. Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global water planners are increasingly considering seawater desalination as an alternative to traditional freshwater supplies. Since desalination is both expensive and energy intensive, taking advantage of favorable natural and societal conditions while siting desalination facilities can provide significant financial and environmental returns. Currently, policy makers do not use a location-specific integrated analytical framework to determine where natural and societal conditions are conducive to desalination. This analysis seeks to fill that gap by demonstrating a multi-criteria, geographically-resolved methodology for identifying suitable regions for desalination infrastructure where 1) available renewable resources can offset part of the fossil energy load; 2) feedwater characteristics reduce the total energy needed for desalination; and 3) human populations have capacity and willingness to pay for desalinated water. This work demonstrates the method with a quantitative global analysis that identifies favorable sites for solar-aided seawater reverse osmosis desalination (SWRO) based on specific target criteria. Location-based data about natural conditions (solar insolation, ocean salinity, and ocean temperature) are integrated and mapped with social indicators (water stress, prevailing water prices, and population) to identify regions where solar-aided SWRO has the highest potential. This work concludes that water-stressed tropical and subtropical cities show the highest potential for economically sustainable solar-aided SWRO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-17
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 15 2014


  • Desalination
  • Energy intensity
  • Geographic information systems multicriteria decision analysis (GIS-MCDA)
  • Renewable energy
  • Site selection
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering


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