Utilities Middle East
DIGITALISING SEAWATER DESALINATION
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 RO DESALINATION PLANTS
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.
SUR DESALINATION PLANT IN OMAN: ONE STEP AHEAD
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.
THE PLANT RECENTLY BECAME HOME TO THE “BARREL” TECHNOLOGY
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.
INNOVATION IS KEY
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.