Sun and salt: how solar tech can help California’s drought

In the midst of California’s ongoing drought, researchers at the University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar) at UC Merced are turning to an unlikely ally to help solve the problem of water availability for California’s farmlands: the sun.

“Any adoption of solar technology will help with climate change in the long term, because it reduces our use of fossil fuels,” says Ron Durbin, executive director of UC Solar. But UC Solar’s latest project, which will be presented at the upcoming 2015 UC Solar Research Symposium, aims to show that solar technology can be of short-term help as well, by making water desalination cheaper, more accessible and cleaner.

A salty problem

With severe water shortages affecting California agriculture, farmers increasingly are using reclaimed irrigation water. This approach conserves water, but it comes with a problem: salt. Any use of irrigation adds salts to the soil, and each time water is reused, it gets dirtier and saltier – a problem exacerbated by the widespread use of fertilizers.

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