Kimball hydropanels

A 24-panel hydropanel water production system called SOURCE has been installed at the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball, which can produce up to 950 gallons of clean water each month for the county.

KIMBALL — New solar technology that produces fresh drinking water is now being deployed in McDowell County, the first community-based installation of the system in the nation.

Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball has a 24-panel hydropanel water production system called SOURCE that produces a supply of water every day.

The panels have been installed in over 30 countries but this installation is the first community-based project in the United States, according to a release from Zero Mass Water, the company that designed the product. 

The technology will be unveiled at an event set for this morning at the food bank, with representatives from Zero Mass Water as well as Dig Deep and one2one USA on hand.

The off-grid and self-contained hydropanel system creates fresh drinking water from just sunlight and air (humidity). Using advanced water capture technology, a standard system replaces more than a 12-pack and up to a 20-pack of bottled water on a sunny day.

The panels will provide up to 950 gallons of clean water each month. 

“The addition of this technology to the food bank is something we never imagined we’d see,” said Linda McKinney, Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank director. “To be able to provide fresh, pure drinking water to the individuals and families of McDowell County has been a need for years and this water collection system will allow us to do just that at low to minimum cost. We’re incredibly grateful and excited to house this technology.”

McKinney said the food bank worked with Zero Mass Water, Dig Deep (a human rights nonprofit), and one2one USA (a new nonprofit reinventing the connection between donors and donees) to bring the hydropanels to Kimball. 

“In February or March of last year I was contacted by Dig Deep,” she said, adding they go all over the world working to get clean water from different sources for places with water source problems. “They had heard about the plight in McDowell County.”

That plight, she said, includes failing water systems and contaminated wells.

“They wanted to come down here since so many people come to the food bank,” she said. “They wanted me to travel with them and show them parts of the county and set up interviews with people (impacted by not having access to clean water).”

McKinney said a lady from Dig Deep visited and spent a week touring the county and talking to people.

“One thing led to another,” she said. “In July I got a call and they said a foundation was interested in funding the hydropanels for the food bank.”

The installation started two weeks ago and the hydropanels are already producing water, she added.

“I have an app I can read at all times (for the hydropanels) and they are monitored from California,” McKinney said. “Everything seems to be going well and they are full of water right now.”

Representatives from the company and involved organizations will be at the “soft opening” of the hydropanel system, she said, and she has even received phone calls about it from the Wall Street Journal.

McKinney said the water will be tested this morning and “tasted” for the first time.

“They want to show the public what they (hydropanels) will do and make the county aware of this,” she said, adding that the foundation will also look at the food bank and learn about things it may need.

McKinney said the 24 hydropanels now installed will be fenced in, and more funding is available to add more.

“They are ready to roll (with the project),” she said.

The soft opening event will be held at 11 a.m. today beside the food pantry, located on Rt. 52 (Coal Heritage Highway) between Kimball and Welch.

The company also said that the installation of the panels was done by a coal miner who was retrained to work in renewable energy installation. 

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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