Our recent story about the Sunspring water filtration units that are solar powered, operational in just three hours after arrival at a site, and able to process up to 5,000 gallons per day for up to ten years, drew a wave of reader response.
Using GE’s ecomagination certified Homespring water filtration unit as its core, the Sunspring was invented by Jack Barker and is made by his company, Innovative Water Technologies. We sent Jack some of the questions — and his emailed responses are below.
Does the $0.0013/gal cost represent up to 5,000 gal/day for up to 10 years?
Jack Barker: We have many Sunsprings in the field that are making much more than the 5,000 gpd [gallons per day] and many that are making less, every installation is different. Our WQA Gold Seal Certification rates the Sunspring at 4.5 gpm, that is 6,480 gpd.
Rotary International is supporting a Clean Water initiative in many countries using, among other things, a simple filtration unit. It is small (family-sized), passive, can be made of recycled materials and uses locally available filter media.
JB: I applaud the efforts of everyone around the world to providing clean water. We focused on providing SAFE water at a quantity that can make a difference. I have seen many of these passive water systems in the field — the focus of the Sunspring is to have a decentralized safe water system for people all around the world.
I coined a term “water burden” — water burden is simply the impact you have on the people that you are providing safe drinking water to. Are you increasing or decreasing the “water burden” on the people you are trying to help? Many of the home water systems increase the “water burden” to a point that the people only use them for a short time, take them apart and use them for something else or just do not use them. With the Sunspring decentralized water treatment system, people just show up and they are able to get microbiologically safe drinking water for taking medicine, drinking and preparing food instantly.
In cases like Haiti, where I spent 140 days last year, many people don’t even have a home and those that do don’t have room to set up a home water system and maintain it. These systems are also often only a few liters an hour. Lastly, most of those systems provide clean water, they don’t even claim that it is safe to drink. With the Sunspring and GE technology, we have independent certifications as to the quality of the product and SAFE drinking water is just one less thing the people have to worry about. They just walk to the Sunspring and turn on the spigot to get safe drinking water.
The real issue for remote users is long-term maintenance for the unit. I would be interested to know how the unit is marketed to third world countries knowing that the unit requires periodic maintenance.
JB: We currently have Sunsprings in the USA, Mexico, Haiti, Domincan Republic, Congo, Nigeria, India, Burkina Faso, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have a 1-2 day training class at our manufacturing plant in Rocky Ford, Colorado and then we make sure people are on the ground to perform routine maintenance. In Haiti, I hired one Haitian to maintain 20 Sunsprings and to do installations for us. He has scheduled 1-2 visits a month and spends about an hour to do routine maintenance and check out the system.
My concern is the people of Haiti are poor so who is paying for the units or how is it being paid for?
JB: The money that is being spent all around the world on clean water projects is staggering. Monies are often available from Governments, NGOs, Mission groups and private donors. Another exciting option is to micro-finance and create small micro-economies for safe drinking water.
For example a single Sunspring at half capacity could produce 2,500 gallons (9,462 liters) per day of safe drinking water. If that water was sold at 4 cents a gallon, 20% of what bottled water was being sold for in Haiti last year, the person would be earning $100 a day. The average person in Haiti makes $2-$8 a day.
With the proper plan set up by Governments, companies or NGOs, Sunsprings will create jobs, be able to sustain and expand their own safe water programs and supply the world with safe drinking water. In many places NGOs and Governments will not charge for the water — but in many cases you can charge enough to pay for the program and still be affordable to the people. [Editor’s note: GE donated 10 of the 17 Sunsprings that Barker has stationed across Haiti.)
All we need is a fresh water source, sunlight, a little site preparation and a safe place for the installation and the Sunspring can be installed within hours. That is what is so great about the Sunspring, it is state of the art technology, for all the people of the world.
In addition to talks with the Marine Corps about using the technology, is there other interest from the military or government agencies in the U.S.?
JB: We are eager to show the military the rapid deployment opportunities with the Sunspring: National Guard, Emergency response, FEMA, Red Cross…. From crate to making water is 2-4 hours.
* Read “Tackling Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic with Solar Power” on GE Reports
* See how the water filtration units were used at the Marine Corps Marathon