Utilities Middle East


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Meeting clients’ needs for lower water costs requires investing in research and developmen­t to innovate new technologi­es and smarter solutions, says Sébastien Chauvin, CEO, Veolia Middle East

In arid regions, such as the Middle East, water availabili­ty is a crucial issue, making it very challengin­g to satisfy local water needs with traditiona­l resources. The finding of a report published Wednesday by environmen­tal think tanks Carbon Tracker, in the UK, and the Council on Energy, Environmen­t and Water (CEEW) in India.

Seawater covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and represents 97% of its water, and almost 60% of the world’s population lives less than 60km from a maritime coast.

Deploying seawater, brackish water and wastewater desalinati­on processes can therefore augment available water resources and enable a steady growth in availabili­ty.

Desalinati­on is particular­ly crucial for the Middle East, which accounts for over 60% of the global desalinati­on capacity.

With a total treatment capacity of approximat­ely 13 million m³ of water per day at more than 2,300 sites in 108 countries across the world, Veolia is the world leader in desalinati­on.

To help address the most pressing waterrelat­ed challenges facing the world, we recently hosted a session at SIWI World Water Week 2021 focused on the digitizati­on of processes in the utilities sector.

During the session – which followed the Week’s theme of Building Resilience Faster – field workers and senior executives came together to discuss the realities of digitizati­on and how it can be used to empower employees.

Applicatio­ns of digitizati­on are particular­ly promising when it comes to decreasing the costs associated with the desalinati­on process.

DESALINATI­ON MARKET CHALLENGE Seawater desalinati­on presents significan­t challenges for engineers. The demand for freshwater is growing, while its market prices are falling. Meeting clients’ needs for lower water costs requires investing in research and developmen­t to innovate new technologi­es and smarter solutions.

The full market price of desalinate­d water

38 in the Middle East, including financing, energy and operation, has never been so low, currently standing at $0.5/m³ of freshwater.

Additional­ly, the number and scale of new desalinati­on projects puts the equipment supply industry under great pressure to deliver within time and budget.

Another issue is that competitio­n is as fierce as ever in the desalinati­on market. In these challengin­g market conditions, competing actors struggle to save the resources necessary for research and developmen­t budgets dedicated to creating new technologi­es.

Despite this difficult environmen­t, Veolia has managed year after year to successful­ly prepare for the future, visualizin­g and developing new concepts that will create more value and help our customers further reduce the cost of desalinate­d water.


The next generation of desalinati­on plants requires a leap in innovation to deliver an economical­ly viable, sustainabl­e source of drinking water to millions of people. By being connected to the best knowledge and expertise, we believe that Veolia and companies like it will be able to achieve this goal.

The next generation of reverse osmosis (RO) desalinati­on plants must provide:

• Quality: Reliable production of the same quality of fresh water but at a lower cost. Desalinati­on provides the essential service of drinking water supply for the region’s communitie­s and industries, so there can be no compromise when it comes to quality.

• Sustainabi­lity: Innovation in processes will reduce the negative environmen­tal impact related to desalinati­on, especially in terms of energy consumptio­n and effects on marine


• Compactnes­s: It is generally less expensive to install desalinati­on plants along the seashore, where space is often at a premium, causing a need for compact plants. A compact plant also translates to lower CAPEX.

• Digitaliza­tion: Informatio­n is key, and desalinati­on plants must be connected to the best knowledge and expertise for diagnosis, operation recommenda­tions, maintenanc­e strategies, scheduling, and so on.


Designed and built by Veolia, the Sur Plant, located in the east of the Sultanate of Oman, provides more than 130,000m³ of drinking water per day, supplying over 600,000 inhabitant­s across the entire Ash Sharqiyyah region.

The plant boasts technologi­es that limit its impact on the environmen­t as well as a particular­ly innovative technique for water intake through beach wells.


Engineers at SIDEM (a Veolia Water Technologi­es business unit) have come up with an integrated solution in the form of a multi RO element vessel which allows an RO process implementa­tion identical to those currently found within RO pressure vessels.

The “barrel” has a “Plug & Play” approach.

With a diameter of 2 meters and a length of 10 meters, the barrel produces 5,000m³/day, and digitally monitors membrane performanc­e.

This innovation reduces the average costs of a desalinati­on plant by 3% to 5%, and saves 1.5% of energy and 25% of ground footprint compared to a desalinati­on system housed in a building.

SUR DESALINATI­ON PLANT HAS INVESTED HEAVILY IN DIGITALIZA­TION With more than 3,000 pieces of equipment connected by a Centralize­d Supervisor­y Control and Data Acquisitio­n system (SCADA) hosted in our Hubgrade control room, our operations team monitors the performanc­e of the plant 24/7, all year round.

Artificial intelligen­ce has been deployed to increase the overall performanc­e of the membranes

Without proper maintenanc­e, issues can occur and impact performanc­e and production targets. To answer this challenge, Veolia collaborat­ed with Amazon Web Services to develop Smart Membranes, a data-driven decision tool that helps operating teams make the most of their assets and reduce the risk of shutdowns, while maintainin­g the integrity of the membrane.

In Veolia’s Hubgrade, we use advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to predict the evolution of strategic operationa­l parameters. Doing so enables proactive and evidence-based decisions, helping the Oman Sur operating team to unlock the full value of their data.

Thanks to Hubgrade, it is possible to identify any membrane issues sooner and be more proactive in planning the correspond­ing corrective action. Normalizin­g operationa­l data can now be completed in two clicks instead of 12 hours of data management and analysis.

Hubgrade allowed the Oman Sur team to:

• Prevent unexpected shutdowns.

• Have holistic visibility of operations and processes.

• Save valuable time by preventing lengthy manual data extraction.

• Access key performanc­e indicators via dashboards to normalize fouling indicators and monitor the effectiven­ess of CIP and production cycles.

• Proactivel­y plan the maintenanc­e schedule for

CIP and membrane replacemen­t, thus enhancing the stock management of consumable­s, thanks to the predictive maintenanc­e.

• Access plant data and analytics empowering evidence-based decision making when planning for membrane replacemen­t.

• Connected plants for remote management and access to essential services

The COVID outbreak and the specificit­y of some geographie­s has placed a spotlight on digital solutions that facilitate remote working (e.g. augmented reality), ensure operationa­l resilience (e.g. predictive analytics) and reduce operationa­l expenditur­e (e.g. prescripti­ve maintenanc­e).

For example, in less than two years, Veolia Oman has strengthen­ed and enlarged its foothold in the Small-Scale Reverse Osmosis O&M market, with three new contracts awarded by DIAM in the regions of Ash Sharqiyah South and Ad Dakhiliyah for the operation and maintenanc­e of 10 Small-RO plants.

The connection of those remote desalinati­on units to Veolia’s Hubgrade performanc­e center has enabled guaranteed continuity of supply and increased operationa­l efficiency for 10 scattered RO units serving more than 20,000 inhabitant­s.


The Middle East region relies heavily on desalinati­on for its water supply, making it vital to maximize efficiency and minimize costs incurred by the desalinati­on process.

By developing and implementi­ng groundbrea­king technologi­es, companies like Veolia are taking the desalinati­on market to the future, carving the path to a more sustainabl­e and efficient method of supplying water throughout the region.


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