OPEN Nature communications | 28 Sep 2017
AH Cavusoglu, X Chen, P Gentine and O Sahin
About 50% of the solar energy absorbed at the Earth’s surface drives evaporation, fueling the water cycle that affects various renewable energy resources, such as wind and hydropower. Recent advances demonstrate our nascent ability to convert evaporation energy into work, yet there is little understanding about the potential of this resource. Here we study the energy available from natural evaporation to predict the potential of this ubiquitous resource. We find that natural evaporation from open water surfaces could provide power densities comparable to current wind and solar technologies while cutting evaporative water losses by nearly half. We estimate up to 325 GW of power is potentially available in the United States. Strikingly, water’s large heat capacity is sufficient to control power output by storing excess energy when demand is low, thus reducing intermittency and improving reliability. Our findings motivate the improvement of materials and devices that convert energy from evaporation.The evaporation of water represents an alternative source of renewable energy. Building on previous models of evaporation, Cavusoglu et al. show that the power available from this natural resource is comparable to wind and solar power, yet it does not suffer as much from varying weather conditions.
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