Utilities Middle East
SOLAR FOR WATER
Renewable energy is gaining popularity within the region sweater desalination sector as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announce large scale solar powered desalination projects
Globally, more than 2 billion people are living in areas with acute water stress or scarcity. Water use has grown at more than twice the global growth rate for population since 1900. The present and future availability of adequate fresh water supplies across the globe is at risk and the deficit of surface and groundwater resources will further intensify the current water scarcity situation.
As of 2019, 17 countries in the world are reported to be experiencing “extremely high levels of baseline water stress.” 12 out of the 17 countries are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; Qatar tops the list of 17 countries with Kuwait at the 7th place followed by Saudi Arabia ranked 8th. The other 3 GCC countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman also make it to the list.
This situation is expected to only worsen in the next 10 years, as the GCC countries move forward on economic diversification agendas. In this context, finding a reliable alternative source of water supply and addressing the growing requirement is the need of the hour.
In this context of limited availability of usable water as a natural resource, desalination and
Desalination can be coupled with renewable sources such as solar, wind etc. for energy efficiency.
Solar energy is gaining popularity due to its abundant availability and it is also evenly spread over the entire region. The recent success of Masdar’s Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Program in Ghantoot is expected to speed up the commercialisation of utility/ large scale projects. The Ghantoot pilot project achieved energy efficiency improvements of up to 75% through the 4-year program compared with thermal desalination technologies in the UAE. The major challenge in commercialising large scale plants today is reducing the dependence on grid power as back-up when there is insufficient solar energy.
The GCC has seen increasing project awards for desalination using renewable resources. In February, NEOM, the flagship project of
Saudi Arabia’s post-oil diversification plan, announced that it will adopt pioneering solar technology to produce low cost, environmentally friendly water to strengthen NEOM’s reputation as an emerging hub for innovation and conservation.
NEOM, the Saudi Arabian ‘giga-project’ is being built on a 26,500 km2 area in the
North-Western corner of the Kingdom along the borders of Egypt and Jordan.
The aims of NEOM to become a major location for sporting events moved forward with the hosting of its first officially-endorsed international events in July last year including the IWWF NEOM Wakeboard event, a FIFAendorsed Beach Soccer Cup tournament with teams from Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, England, Oman and the UAE and exhibition Beach Rugby matches with players from Saudi Arabia and an all-female set of match officials, plus a Beach Tennis invitation event starring male and female players from the region.
NEOM signed an agreement with U.K.-based Solar Water Plc. to build the first ever “solar dome” desalination plants with the pilot project aiming to revolutionise the water desalination process, helping solve one of the world’s most pressing problems – access to fresh water.
Work on the first “solar dome” is expected to be completed by the end of 2020. NEOM states that at an estimated US$0.34/metre3, the cost of producing water via “solar dome” technology will be significantly lower than desalination plants using reverse osmosis methods.
The technology will also significantly reduce the impact on the environment by producing more concentrated brine, a potentially harmful byproduct of the water extraction process. “NEOM’s adoption of this pilot supports Saudi Arabia’s sustainability goals, as outlined in the country’s National Water Strategy 2030, and is fully aligned with the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations,” says Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Abdulrahman Al-Fadli.
Last year, DEWA said it had received 5 bids for an advisory services tender for a 120 MIGD (million imperial gallons per day) water desalination project in Hassyan. The plant is expected to come into operation in 2023.
This is the first project to use the Independent Water Producer (IWP) model in Dubai. The project will use Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO). DEWA received 5 bids from Cranmore Partners from the UAE and UK; Synergy from India and the USA; Deloitte from the USA; PricewaterhouseCoopers from the UK, and Ernst & Young from the UK.
DEWA’s studies proved the technical and economic feasibility of replacing Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) desalination technology with solar-powered reverse osmosis using cheap clean energy. “DEWA intends to desalinate all its water powered by a mix of clean energy that uses environmentally sustainable energy by 2030. This means Dubai will exceed global targets for using clean energy to desalinate water,” says Jamal Shaheen Al Hammadi, Vice President – Clean Energy & Diversification Business Development & Excellence at DEWA.
The emirate depends on desalination for its potable water, with a water production capacity of 470 million gallons per day (MIGD). But the process is highly energy intensive and often