How the sun is making water safe to drink

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Solar is changing lives here

For many people around the world, getting access to clean, safe drinking water is still a challenge.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "at least" 1.8 billion people around the world still use a drinking water source that is contaminated with human waste. The WHO says that dirty drinking water causes an estimated 502,000 deaths from diarrhea a year.

In India, one non-profit organization is looking to the skies to purify water. SunSaluter have developed a "solar panel rotator" which follows the sun during daylight hours, boosting efficiency and producing clean drinking water simultaneously.

The potential of solar power as a clean energy source is significant: In 2014 the International Energy Agency stated that the sun could be the planet's biggest source of electricity by 2050.

"We understand the cause is always the same for energy poverty and… clean water," Sambit Sasmal, country director for SunSaluter in India, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"Focusing… (on) that, SunSaluter is basically an ultra-low cost solar tracker which just uses gravity and water to increase the efficiency of solar panels," Sasmal added.

Keren Su | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

Users of the system collect four liters of water in two bottles, which are then attached to a "drip mechanism."

A counterweight is attached to the other side, with the water in the bottles filtered and deposited into a container. The bottles become lighter as their water is filtered, and the solar panel tilts to follow the sun.

SunSolar say that, at the end of the day at least four liters of clean water and 30 percent more power will have been produced.

The benefit of the device is being felt in less developed areas. "SunSaluter is beneficial to rural areas because it's… cheaper," Santosh Jha, product innovation engineer at SunSaluter, said. "One automated unit is enough for 25 houses in rural areas," he added.

To date, SunSaluter say that their devices have been deployed in 16 countries, impacting 8,000 people and helping to slash costs by 10 to 20 percent.