In 2009, WorldWater & Solar Technologies (WWST) of Princeton, New Jersey set out to find a simple and practical solution to address the challenges of food, water and energy production in the most economical and green way possible. The result was a solar-powered system capable of operating large motors and pumps that require 600 horsepower or more.
The VariMax system replaces diesel irrigation pumps that supply water for irrigation, drinking and growing food in locales where the water may be hundreds of meters below ground. The company’s purification and desalination systems destroy 99% of water-borne pathogens while supplying over 100,000 liters of fresh, clean drinking water per system for villages and larger communities.
VariMax is currently being used extensively in the United States as well as in Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and Haiti, with smaller units being deployed in several other countries. Working with an Egyptian partner, KarmSolar, WWST is supplying the Fridal Agribusiness Cluster, operating in the Egyptian Sahara, 180 miles southwest of Cairo, where eight solar units are supporting agriculture on hundreds of hectares of previously non-productive land. The VariMax replaces diesel pumps, and eradicates the need to transport diesel fuel from Cairo every week. There are some 500 diesel pumps operating in the larger area to operate pumps, all of which can be replaced by VariMax, which requires no re-fueling and very little maintenance.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank has shown interest in helping countries and companies in Africa to finance VeriMax installations.
“We developed the VariMax in a barn on my farm near Princeton, New Jersey, with several scientists and engineers from Princeton University,” says Quentin T. Kelly, Chairman and CEO of WWST. “These were some of the same scientists who designed and implemented the rocket engine research for the NASA Space Shuttle and other space probes.” The ability to drive multi-hundred horsepower pumps by solar power alone changes the way agriculture and municipal systems normally work – eliminating expensive, carbon-emitting diesel or the use of an irregular grid.
The VariMax enables a clean economic means to governments and private contractors for their power operations. WWST’s technology purifies contaminated water and/or treats vast amounts of wastewater for re-use in agriculture or animal watering. The company calls it “instant infrastructure”, as it produces its own solar power for drinking water and food supply.
One advantage of the system is the removal of tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by diesel or even grid-powered pumps normally used in agriculture and municipalities (the electric grid obtains its generating power from fossil fuels such as oil and coal). WWST is currently looking into ways to measure the carbon savings from large-scale conversion from diesel to solar pumps. A rule of thumb holds that 3 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of solar saves approximately 1 ton of carbon dioxide CO2 per year from entering the atmosphere. This will vary according to the carbon source (coal, oil, natural gas, etc.), with 1 kWh of carbon produced by coal plants carrying considerably more carbon than 1 kWh of carbon produced by natural gas, for example.
The VariMax system incorporates smart management of power, water and irrigation systems for farms and agribusinesses by controlling the pump’s speed in accordance to power required. It has the capacity to operate off-grid or interact with the grid, and provide power during daytime outages. Electronic control devices can power pumps of up to several hundred horsepower.
WWST says it has conducted studies on the availability of ground water resources for certain countries in Africa and the MENA region, enabling a more effective delivery of service. While the exact potential of off-grid solar irrigation in Africa is difficult, if not impossible to measure, it is known that in Africa alone, millions of acres of land are currently irrigated using diesel pumps. With technology now available for off-grid direct drive solar pumping, many can “turn their deserts green”, as in Egypt, and create veritable breadbaskets throughout the African continent.