Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Jason C. Quinn


Jason C. Quinn


Aaron Katz


Nick Roberts


Global growing demand for agricultural production has put increased pressure on freshwater resources in various global locations. Many areas have saline groundwater resources which have not been utilized for agriculture due to the economics associated with water pumping and desalination. Limited availability to electricity and high operational costs of diesel generators are major obstacles to utilization of these resources. Reduced costs associated with large-scale renewable energy have renewed interest in understanding the potential impacts of developing distributed photovoltaic (PV) powered water pumping and desalination systems for agriculture. In order to determine the economic feasibility of solar-powered water pumping and desalination for agriculture, an engineering system model that performs hourly simulations of direct-coupled PV pumping and desalination systems by integrating environmental resource data and industrial component performance data was developed. Optimization algorithms were created to identify the best membrane type, control method and reverse osmosis system configuration for a given set of locational parameters. Economic analysis shows that PV-powered systems are more economical than diesel-powered systems for water pumping, with water desalination costs for PV- and diesel-powered systems being comparable. Grid-powered systems are able to pump and desalinate water for a lower cost than PV or diesel for all cases evaluated. A sensitivity analysis is performed to generalize results for different input parameters and illustrate the impact of input variables on water unit costs. Several case studies in the Jordan Valley were evaluated to illustrate the economic viability of solar-based systems with simulation results including a direct comparison to diesel- and grid-connected alternatives. Results indicate that under fair environmental conditions and irrigating greenhouse vegetables, the PV-, diesel-, and grid-powered systems produce favorable internal rates of return of 40%, 84%, and 248%, respectively. Under poor environmental conditions and less profitable crops the PV-, diesel-, and grid-powered systems all result in negative internal rates of return, illustrating the need for optimal location and crop selection for system implementation.