NEW WATER POTENTIAL
Regional utilities are expected over the next months to scale up budget allocation on implementing better water technologies and energy-efficient desalination in response to growing demand
GCC governments are expected to accelerate investment in water infrastructure to stem rising demand from a growing population and mushrooming industries. Expenditure on new desalination capacity is expected to reach $100bn by 2020 according to industry experts, as the region aims to increase its total seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% in the next two years. The GCC’s current seawater desalination capacity of approximately 4,000 million imperial gallons a day (MIGD) is set to increase to more than 5,500MIGD over the next 5 years as the GCC states invest heavily in increasing potable water supply. Regional governments will also scale up budget allocation on implementing better water technologies and energy-efficient desalination. Planned reverse osmosis plant capacities are expected to increase every quarter as a result. GCC countries are also taking requisite steps to overcome known challenges of streamlining public-private participation (PPP), utilities in debt, improving accountability and investment framework. Technology is playing a pivotal role in this situation. The use of advanced water technologies is at an all-time high in the GCC. The water sector in the region will shift their focus towards sustainable practices, wastewater treatment and recycling, with several utilities and water agencies developing modern projects that indicate a technological turnaround for the region. In the medium to long-term, technology adoption/upgrade and compelling sustainability targets, together, can help the GCC reduce the demand-supply gap and aid preservation of resources for future. Over the past two decades, desalination has become the backbone of water supply and consumption in the entire Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Investments in desalination will continue to be on the rise as confidence in various technologies grows. Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology will continue to establish itself as a reliable and efficient technology for desalination. RO technology for desalination has overcome the challenges pertaining to pre-treatment of RO feed water, and a number of plants including the new Al Zawrah desalination plant that will utilise Ultrafiltration (UF) membranes supplied by Pentair X-flow. The system will produce 4783 m3/h of pre-treated seawater to feed the RO membrane system. Similarly, Jubail Seawater RO (SWRO) Phase 2 in Saudi Arabia, has a designed capacity of 58,500 m³/day. The plant has dual membrane system with UF followed by RO and it is the largest UFRO desalination plant in Saudi Arabia. Desalination potential in the GCC is increasingly attracting both domestic and
international companies in the bidding process. The Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, (SEWA), recently announced plans to develop desalination plants, and transmission and distribution systems to improve water quality in several areas of Sharjah following a meeting with French company SUEZ. Qurayyat desalination development in Oman was expected to come online by the end of 2017. The 200,000 m3/day project worth $250mn, awarded on a design, build, own and operate basis was originally scheduled to commence operation by May 2017. Water production activities will continue to increase in the Gulf along with innovations for better water management as demand increases in various settings. Implementation of efficient water management systems is seen as the best way to sustain water resource for the future. Saudi Arabia is the third largest consumer of water per capita in the world. In the next several years, it is also expected to become the third largest water reuse market in the world after the United States and China, according to the Sustainable Water Alliance. Currently, only about 18% of the 1.84mn m³ of wastewater the country processes daily is reused. In order to tap into this potential market effectively, Saudi Arabia has made significant changes to its water sector regulatory system to make it more investor friendly. GCC countries will continue to look for alternative water sources. The UAE is already making remarkable progress in its rain enhancement programme that seeks to improve cloud seeding technology, which will eventually increase the amount of rainfall. Efforts are also underway to improve water storage as a boost to regional water security. Through the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) in UAE, the first man-made underground water storage facility in Liwa will be filled with seven million gallons of desalinated water per day. Regional utilities will push ahead with their conservation efforts in a bid to scale down water consumption levels. Among other things, Dubai has issued a decree instructing district cooling companies to replace desalinated water used in the process of producing chilled water, with Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE), in DC plants. But beyond technology advancements and government investments in water reuse, a paradigm shift in end-user behaviour is now considered essential in driving the mantra of sustainability. Water experts believe that this can be attained through stringent government regulations on water use, which will compel users to adopt thrifty methods. Several GCC countries are considering a reduction or removal of subsidies on water and electricity, while others have hiked water tariffs to encourage rationalisation. Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) recently increased water tariffs for domestic users who exceed the daily consumption cap. While the standard tariff for expatriates remained unchanged at $1.61 for each 1,000 litres, those who exceed the daily limit of 700 litres in flats and 5,000 litres in villas will now be charged $2.87 per 1,000 litres, an increase from the $2.69 rate last year. Through its new water tariff system that has been revised upwards, Saudi Arabia is also aiming to reduce the daily per capita water consumption to 83 litres from the current 286 litres, which represents a 344% decrease in water use. “These utility reform policies are gradually being introduced in the GCC, and although implementation is still at domestic level, their influence on general water and electricity use in other applications such as agriculture will eventually lead to the need for more efficient products,” says Vincent Chirouze, regional director, Xylem, Middle East and Africa. “But governments need to further review the ways in which water is being utilised and seek solutions to enhance sustainability by ensuring a more efficient system to lessen water output and improve the use of wastewater.” Industry analysts have estimated that sewage treatment capacity will have to more than double over the next six years in order to accommodate the region’s economic growth. While the global recession has impacted Middle Eastern countries, growth remains dynamic among the GCC countries. Despite the hurdle of constrained government expenditure in the region rendered by low oil prices, and a somewhat entrenched apathy towards implementing new technologies, there can be no doubt that smart metering in the Middle East is set to play a key part in its utilities going forward and in its drive for more sustainable energy. There will also be a need to engage telecom operators to play an active role to support the utilities sector for adoption of smart grids. Despite the slowdown in activity, major international water companies are keeping a close eye on developments and making inroads in the GCC water market through manufacturing setups, partnerships, and joint ventures. With population growth and industrialisation reaching unprecedented levels, more work is expected, from collection networks to treatment plants and water reuse.