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


The objective of this study was to determine the economic viability of solar powered water pumping and desalination systems for agriculture. Growing global demand for agricultural production has put increased pressure on limited freshwater resources in various locations around the word. Many areas have low quality groundwater resources that have not been utilized for agriculture due to limited availability to electricity, high operational costs of diesel generators and the economics associated with water pumping and processing. Reverse osmosis is a desalination technology that removes salts and other minerals from low-quality water, making it fit for drinking or irrigation. Reduced costs associated with large scale renewable energy has renewed interest in understanding the potential impact of developing solar powered water pumping and desalination systems for agriculture, allowing access to the untouched groundwater resources. In order to determine the economic feasibility of solar-powered water pumping and desalination for agriculture, an engineering systems model that performs hourly simulations of solar-powered pumping and desalination systems was developed. Optimization algorithms were integrated to identify the best membrane type, control method, and reverse osmosis system configuration for a given set of locational parameters. Economic analysis showed 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 were able to pump and desalinate water for a lower cost than PV or diesel for all cases evaluated. Several case studies in the Jordan Valley were evaluated to illustrate the economics of solar-, diesel-, and grid-powered systems. Results indicated that for favorable environmental conditions and the use of greenhouse vegetables the PV-, diesel-, and grid-powered systems produced internal rates of return of 40%, 84%, and 248%, respectively. Under poor environmental conditions and growing less profitable crops the PV-, diesel-, and grid-powered systems all resulted in negative internal rates of return, illustrating the need for optimal location and crop selection for system implementation.