by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest entry in the “college is oversold” ledger: Manoj Bhargava, the 5-Hour Energy CEO who’s applying his brain power now to a market-based solution for the problem of drinking water shortages. The latest Fortune magazine profiles Bhargava.
Take the Rain Maker, a desalination unit roughly the size of a flatbed truck that relies on a conventional power source to distill seawater into freshwater well beyond Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. A single Rain Maker can be placed in a town with a wastewater plant. In a crisis, hundreds could be stacked on an ocean barge to process seawater. Coastal desalination facilities typically cost billions to construct and require massive amounts of energy. Could the Rain Maker, produced at industrial scale, pull California back from the brink of disaster? The forecast looks promising. Regulators at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility, a testing facility administered in New Mexico by the Department of the Interior, have given it a stamp of approval.
Bhargava, a Princeton University dropout and former Hindu monk, contends that complex solutions aren’t necessary to solve the world’s most pressing problems. “I’m not that smart,” he insists. “[In the ashram] we were taught to think from a simple point of view. That training made all of this relatively easy.” The Rain Maker and Bhargava’s other potentially world-changing tools, such as a recumbent stationary bicycle that generates a day’s worth of electricity in an hour of leisurely pedaling, have few moving parts and were designed so that nearly anyone can repair them. “We fish in the simple pond, whereas everybody else fishes in the complicated pond,” he says with a shrug.
The Stage 2 team aims to put the Rain Maker into production by the first quarter of 2016. That’s why Bhargava agreed to participate in Billions in Change, a documentary film spotlighting his work—to spread the word. “My job from here on out is to get this implemented,” he says, “and to get politicians and environmentalists to work with us.”
One thing he’s not shy about? Plans to sell his technology for profit in drought-plagued California. (Bhargava is, after all, a businessman.) But he intends to use the profits to give Rain Makers to the poor in India.