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Water Goes Off the Grid

A Canadian company rethinks atmospheric-water generators

3 min read

The escalating cost of electricity has sent a growing number of consumers in search of ways to generate electricity at home. Element Four, based in Kelowna, B.C., Canada, is betting that with bottled-water consumption increasing and aging water distribution systems, water will be the next commodity consumers will want to produce at home. The company has done what it says is a top-to-bottom reinvention of the atmospheric-water generator—a device that pulls water from the air by cooling it to the point that condensation forms and then keeps it sterile for drinking.

Element Four’s WaterMill is a 300â''watt generator that makes up to 12 liters of drinking water per day—enough, it says, for your typical North American household. At Kelowna’s rate of 6 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour, the cost comes to about 3 to 4 cents per liter. The technical innovation is in two areas, according to Richard Weisbeck, chief technology officer. The first, a system of temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors that feeds into a microcontroller, makes the device automatically adapt to its environment. The microcontroller fine-tunes the flow of air and refrigerant in the machine to match its surroundings so that it continues to work in extremes of heat and cold, inside or outside. ”From Toronto to Ecuador, you can pull it out of the box and the machine will search for its peak efficiency and then run that way,” says Rick Howard, Element Four’s CEO.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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