Solar Water Solutions has created a patented water purification system that is powered by renewable energy generated by solar panels. The company helps to solve SDG 6 of Clean water and sanitation, as it enables access to safe and affordable drinking water in remote locations, and SDG 7 of affordable and clean energy, as its innovative product is powered by solar energy. Solar Water Solutions also helps to solve for example SDG 5, gender equality, by focusing on empowering women with work opportunities by maintaining the equipment.
Hanken School of Economics
Current processes for seawater desalination are very energy-intensive and produce large CO2 emissions. To combat this, Solar Water Solutions, in cooperation with the Aalto University’s Department of Energy Technology, developed a water purification system that is based on traditional reverse osmosis but is unique as it can produce safe drinking water from seawater in a sustainable way by using renewable energy and without emissions.
Solar Water Solutions' innovation is used to tackle several of the UN SDGs. Firstly, the company’s product is directly correlated to solving SDG 6 clean water and sanitation as their goal is to solve the global drinking water shortage. The company does this by producing clean and safe drinking water for communities in impoverished and remote locations where it is difficult or even impossible to have access to safe drinking water. Secondly, the company’s innovation is also tackling the SDG 7 affordable and clean energy, as it has lower energy consumption “compared to any other decentralized desalination water purification system” as well as lower energy cost. Solar Water Solutions also impacts SDG of 5 gender equality in certain communities such as in Kenya, where it is traditionally the women and girl's responsibility to carry the water, undertaking time-consuming and arduous water-carrying trips. With the company’s system, water can be obtained easier, enabling the children to go to school and the women to engage in entrepreneurial activities.
A key source of inspiration for this solar-powered purification solution was Antti Pohjola’s father, who “is an inventor and has been researching renewable energy technologies for over 25 years”. The idea for Solar Water Solutions appeared when Antti’s father “was developing a desalination system”, which is the system of removing the salt from seawater to turn it into drinking water. The biggest challenge of this system is that it is very energy-intensive because “you need to store the energy first into batteries and then take the energy into the system to have constant pressure”. Antti’s father began to tackle this problem and came up with an innovative way of using free-of-charge solar energy in the safe production of clean drinking water. At the time, Antti was working in the financial industry where he had worked for 15 years. He had “always had a very big interest in this innovation” and thought the idea could “be really revolutionary in terms of (providing) clean water locally”. The father and son decided to join forces, combining Antti’s knowledge gained from the finance industry with his father’s knowledge about renewable energy technologies. As a result, the two made a product from the innovation and began to “really find ways to commercialize this”. The company’s goal is “to bring the costs of clean water production and its related service concept to a whole new level, so that everyone will have access to clean drinking water, even in poorer areas”.
The overall impact of Solar Water Solutions reaches wide. A clear and vital short-term effect is the production of clean drinking water. Solar Water Solutions’ focus is in international markets and especially in areas with no or limited access to clean drinking water. In addition to the main product, water, Solar Water Solutions also has many long-term effects on the communities. Such impacts are for example the health benefits provided, economic growth in the area, and reduced gender inequalities. An example of such effects described by Antti is a case from Kenya.
Solar Water Solutions, together with its local partners, installed an unmanned water station in Kenya. In the station, the water can be bought with mobile payments and the price per liter is lower than the single-use plastic bottles from the kiosks. The water station creates revenue streams for local infrastructure and impact investors as well as franchise entrepreneurs. This case also highlights the effect especially in the lives of women and children, as household affairs, such as getting water, often take up most of their time. It is therefore harder for women to be financially independent and work and for children to go to school because time is spent elsewhere. Providing water closer to the community is a step towards changing this. There are also social and economic effects created by training locals, and especially women, to maintain the water station – thus creating jobs and empowering the local community to uphold the system.
Solar Water Solutions is a family business founded in 2015. It is a start-up aiming for growth and scalability in international markets. They are estimating to be profitable in 2020. By the end of 2019, 9 employees were working for Solar Water Solutions, of which six were hired in the preceding year. The company is based in Helsinki and has a branch office in Abu Dhabi. As the operations expand, jobs are created locally in Finland but also outside of Finland.
Solar Water Solutions have entered the markets globally and have case examples from various continents. In addition to the range of global customer base, they have developed the ATM technology and product offerings rapidly. Their product offering portfolio consists of several products with different capabilities. There are products for consumer markets as well as larger-scale solutions to be applied for business-to-business customers. In addition to the provided portfolio, the company is open to co-creating a customized solution for a customer. The CEO of the company tells in the interview that in the future they are interested in entering a new market, the food and beverage industry, which remains one of the big consumers of freshwater reserves.
The Solar Water ATMs enable people in remote areas and/or areas with contaminated or saline water resources to gain access to clean drinking water. Without this innovation, many would remain unable to access clean drinking water. In addition, Solar Water Solutions provides an environmentally friendly way to desalinate water. Rather than relying on battery power, which is not only expensive but relies on minerals with problematic supply chains such as cobalt, the Solar Water ATMs run on large solar panels for power to execute the water purification process. There is also no diesel used in the process, which is relatively common with water desalination. Solar Water technologies can purify both seawater and groundwater to make the water drinkable. Furthermore, the carbon footprint is also small with zero emissions from the production. The innovation is also able to target eliminating plastic waste as consumers will no longer have to transport clean drinking water in bottles.
While Solar Water Solutions’ goals lie mostly in the global sphere, Finns can also benefit from this innovation. As many summer cottages in Finland do not have readily drinkable running water, Solar Water Solutions’ technologies replace having to bring in water to remote summer cottages in other less sustainable and convenient ways.
Antti Pohjola, Co-founder, CEO
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Espoo, Uusimaa, FI
Business Website: https://solarwatersolutions.fi/fi/
Year Founded: 2015
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Solar Water Solutions is a Finnish water technology company founded in 2015 by Antti Pohjola and his father. The company’s mission is to make sustainable drinking water that people can afford, and it is done by a unique innovation that removes bacteria, chemicals, viruses, and other impurities from the seawater or contaminated groundwater and turns it into safe drinking water with purely renewable energy. Solar Water Solutions serves remote and impoverished communities that do not have access to safe drinking water and are thus riddled with waterborne diseases.