Utilities Middle East


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

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