SunPower begins international development of its SunSpring driven water desalination process

June 24, 2002
SunPower Corp. has begun international marketing for its solar desalination process for water treatment.


LOS ALAMOS, N.M., June 24, 2002 -- SunPower Corp. has begun international marketing for its solar desalination process for water treatment.

The global water crisis currently affects 1.5 billion people and according to the U.N., this number will increase to 2.4 billion within the next decade or two.

Global demand for water treatment outstrips the ability to supply. Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems have emerged as the most effective way of turning sea, brackish and contaminated water into safe drinking water.

According to Business Communications Co. Inc., the global market for RO systems is estimated to shortly reach US$2.2 billion. The U.S. is the largest market for RO water treatment.

Senior SunPower management have just completed a second round of meetings in South Africa, Israel and London pursuant to ongoing development of desalination and power projects in those regions.

Additionally, a number of strategic relationships have been formed with companies and individuals having strong geo-political experience and contacts in those areas of the world such as the Middle East, the Caribbean, India and North Africa where SunPower believes there is immediate potential for application of its unique solar capability in water treatment and electricity generation. The current international activities are in addition to ongoing development in New Mexico, southern California and other North American areas of interest.

Existing desalination costs vary greatly and are primarily affected by operation and maintenance expenses and particularly the wide range of volatile energy costs. Energy is the single most expensive production cost of desalination.

SunPower, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Sunspring Inc., has a patented solar energy production technology called "SOLAWATT." This breakthrough science was developed by Dr. Melvin Pruitt, formerly with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The SOLAWATT system includes a patented ground solar "blanket" that provides a means of economically producing electric power from the sun 24 hours per day.

In addition to producing electric power, the SOLAWATT collector will be used by SunPower in a desalination system called SunSpring for producing fresh water from seawater. SunPower's goal is to replace the use of fossil fuels in the production of water.

New RO plants built with the SunSpring solar energy system will not differ greatly in capital cost from traditional RO plants. Heavy capital items such as the RO units, pumps and piping, are similar regardless of the energy source. Significant savings in the price of desalinated water result directly from the replacement of standard electrical power with solar energy.

On average SunPower believes that a SunSpring RO plant could produce water in the long-term with up to a 50% saving over conventional RO plants(1). These savings could be higher still when a standard RO plant is dependent on the importation of fossil fuels to drive a dedicated electrical supply generator, as for example in the Caribbean and Greek Isles.

SunPower's capability to reduce RO production costs, by eliminating the requirement for fossil fueled electricity could make SunPower a major player in current RO markets(1). Equally important is the fact that SunPower can retrofit existing RO systems, saving customers the cost of energy and eliminating the noise and air pollution caused by diesel generators often employed to pump and pressurize water(1). Recently, there are approximately 4,500 RO systems that could potentially be retrofitted with SOLOWATT collectors.

Approximately 46% of the world's inhabitants have no access to an electrical grid. Sun Power's solar technologies can provide them with the ability to produce electricity, water and fuel without the need for major capital and sophisticated infrastructure.

SOLAWATT solar ground panels, consisting of tough plastic films with appropriate optical properties can be mass produced into an "air mattress" form by an automated process in a factory and placed on large rolls. Transported to the field, the SOLAWATT panel, which might be several hundred meters in length, can simply be rolled out on the ground and connected to headers.

Channels for water and air are provided in the panels. Insulation on the bottom of the panels is not needed, since the ground becomes part of the heat storage system. As water flows through the channels, they are heated by the sun. Part of that heat is stored in the ground and in the water in the channels for use at night. The hot water flows to a power plant for electric power production or for desalination.

The power plant uses the heat of the water to evaporate a low-boiling-point liquid, such as a refrigerant. The high-pressure refrigerant vapor turns a turbine for the generation of electricity or drives an expander that drives a high-pressure RO pump.

The SunSpring water production system can be scaled to a range of project sizes. The average global per capita consumption of water is about 150 gallons per day (gpd). A Micro System suitable for a single-family household (ten people -- 1,500 gpd.) would require a flat area of about 20 square meters.

A village system sized for isolated locations or islands (500 people) would require 850 square meters of flat land. A township system, ideal for a coastal town of 5,000 people would require 8,500 square meters and a municipal system to meet the needs of a small city or rural community would require 8.5 acres.

Smaller SunSpring systems (1,800 and 75,000 gpd) are ideally applicable to disaster relief and humanitarian purposes. SunPower envisions that these will often be financed through the UN, USAID, Worldbank, or relief agencies, and will not significantly impact internal resources.

SunPower has chosen to sell desalination systems rather than internally finance them. Therefore business expansion will not be limited through capital constraints. Long-term cash flow is assured through mandatory operations contracts based on revenues per thousand gallons produced. Limiting factors to growth will be the Corporations internal ability to manufacture and ship systems, and to maintain those systems via long term operations and maintenance contracts.

As a key part of the marketing strategy, SunPower will seek to form key alliances with manufacturers of RO equipment. SunPower will seek to provide its process technology on larger installations as an accessory, allowing the current major players in the industry to offer water filtration units at lower production costs. Existing RO manufacturers have extensive sales and maintenance capabilities that can be leveraged by SunPower to achieve rapid market penetration and cash flow.

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