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Solar-powered panels pull water out of thin air to bring running water to Navajo Nation homes

Each hydropanel can make three to five liters of water a day, thereby giving each home up to 10 liters daily with two panels.

Solar-powered panels pull water out of thin air to bring running water to Navajo Nation homes
Cover Image Source: Navajo Power

About 40 percent of households in the Navajo Nation live without access to running water. With no infrastructure in place to bring water through pipes, families are forced to drive to towns miles away to buy water for all their essential needs including cooking, drinking, and cleaning. Fortunately, things are finally looking up for some homes in the community thanks to innovative technology that's literally pulling water out of thin air. Zero Mass Water, an Arizona-based company founded by materials scientist Cody Friesen, is harnessing the power of the sun to absorb moisture from the air and bring it to taps inside 15 houses in the region.

 



 

 

According to Fast Company, the company partnered with local Navajo governments and Navajo Power — a public benefit corporation that develops utility-scale clean energy projects on tribal lands — to bring its SOURCE hydropanel technology to rural homes. 15 homes received two panels each in the initial demonstration project, funded by Barclays and The Unreasonable Group, an accelerator for socially-minded startups. Each hydropanel can make three to five liters of water a day, thereby giving each home up to 10 liters daily with two panels. The panels, which have a lifespan of 15 years, are also designed to store 30 liters of water for when cloud coverage may affect production.

 



 

 

"These homes are very rural. You could drive for 10 minutes down the highway between homes; you’re never going to get a pipe [installed]," said Friesen. "This is a solvable problem." With the pandemic heightening the urgency for easy access to water for Navajo Nation residents, Zero Mass Water sped up talks with chapter leaders to identify the people most in need. "When you have an average family of five or six in a household, and they have a herd of sheep and maybe a couple of horses and cattle, the water doesn’t last too long. They have to make another run into town," said Jerry Williams, president of the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation. 

 



 

 

Williams admitted that he wasn't immediately convinced when Navajo Power first came to him with this project. "I said, 'Well you’re going to have to show me, you’re going to have to make me see it to believe it,'" he revealed. Now, having seen the panels in action and witnessing water flowing through homes of the Navajo families that are a part of the project, Williams hopes more Navajo chapters and leaders will find out that this life-changing technology exists.

 



 

 

"To go through this, to be skeptical and then to the time where you actually feel it, taste it, then you’re game," he said. "Then you think about, 'Wow, how can we get this out to the other communities?'" In a statement published to their website, Navajo Power president, Clara Pratte, said: "We are excited to help shine a light on the potential of Hydropanels to help solve the clean water access challenge our communities have been facing for decades. There are thousands of homes without water and this is a more cost-effective approach to getting clean water to these families."

 



 

 

"While our focus as a company is the development of large clean energy projects, our commitment to the well-being of Navajo communities is our north star, and we want to do everything we can to help the Nation mitigate the threats brought by the pandemic," Pratte added. Speaking of the incredible technology that's making life a whole lot easier for these families, Friesen explained: "A standard, two-panel array, produces 4-10 liters of water each day, and has 60 liters of storage capacity. The size of each panel is 4 feet by 8 feet, lasts for 15 years, and utilizes solar power and a small battery to enable water production. The quality of water produced exceeds the standards of every country where the systems have been deployed."

 



 

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