Could hydropanels creating water out of air be a solution to shortages?

For the past year, Phoenix homeowner Nick Robbins has been getting all of his drinking water from an unlikely source: panels on his roof. It comes out of his refrigerator spigot just like tap water, but it starts from the roof at what looks like solar panels. They're called Source hydropanels, and they actually create water out of air.

Cody Friesen is the founder and CEO of Zero Mass Water, an Arizona startup that built the Source system. He showed CBS News how it works.

"The biggest problem facing humanity is drinking water," Friesen said. "If we can solve that problem, we fundamentally change the world."    

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Source hydropanels  

CBS News

In places like Cape Town, South Africa, thanks to extreme conservation efforts amid a drought, the so-called "day zero," when the water supply runs out, has been pushed back to 2019. But global water shortages are still a concern. A recent U.N. report predicts more than five billion people – about two-thirds of the world's population – could suffer water scarcity by 2050.    

At about $4,000 for a two-panel set, Friesen has already sold more than a thousand Source systems in 10 countries. Each one can produce about 20 16-ounce bottles of water per day.

"If you can make water from the air in Arizona passively, you can do it anywhere," Friesen said. 

The systems already helped out in some of the world's current water crises, from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to a girls orphanage for Syrian war refugees in Lebanon.

"These are young ladies who have lost their families, their homes, their country, and otherwise would be consuming water that would make them sick. And we were able to make it so they have perfect water. At least that piece of their life was better," Friesen said.

Retired NASA climatologist Bill Patzert sees promise in the technology, but he has some reservations.

"The question is, is it scaleable to a larger community or even an entire city?" Patzert said, adding, "Of course the next step will be to see how economical it is on a large scale… so that we can use it not only for a single home but for entire communities."

"Is this really the solution? You're not getting a ton of water out of these panels," Yuccas said to Friesen.

"So each panel, I agree, makes an amount of water for basically a family of four. But you can aggregate those panels together to create big supplies of water where that's necessary," he responded. "For example in one acre, we can do about 5,000 liters a day, so pretty big supply."

"Like if Cape Town called and said, we want every single person in Cape Town to have this installed at their house, would you be able to even do that at this point?" Yuccas asked.

"The rate-limiting step would be the docks in Cape Town, not us. Period," Friesen said.

For now, Friesen's hope is people will use his Source water as a substitute for the 400 billion liters of bottled water sold each year around the world.

"When you're drinking from Source, you know exactly where it came from, you know exactly that it's perfect, you know that it's right there," Friesen said.

After that, he seems confident the sky's the limit.