Utilities Middle East
TOWARDS GREEN DESALINATION
Water desalination is an inherently energy intensive industry. But as demand for water increases due to growing industrialisation and rising population, countries in the GCC that are heavily dependent on desalination for their potable water are finding th
industrial expansion, which will definitely have an impact on water demand going forward. So we work closely with them to understand how we can try to increase the capacity of our existing assets and to boost our own operational efficiencies that will guarantee increased output to meet current and future water needs. We are also strategically positioning ourselves so that we are present in any of the major reverse osmosis desalination projects that are being unveiled in the region.
WHAT TECHNIQUES HAVE YOU ADOPTED TO RAMP UP YOUR OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY IN THE EXISTING ENGIE DESALINATION ASSETS?
This is a very good question because efficiency is something that is really at the heart of our businesses. As a developer, ENGIE has so many assets, but we do operate our own plants as well. So, over the years, we have been able to develop strong technical know-how in terms of operations. And obviously we are applying this know how where we have developed new plants.
The actual plan now is to try and optimise our operations to, obviously save costs, but to also to provide a better operational scheme. We have tried to imbed artificial intelligence into our operations to enable us get a better understanding of our plant operations through data collection. We can now enable remote
operations and monitoring of plants to get critical information about water flow and quality of water that is coming in and out of the plant. And obviously, having more experienced people within the plant helps us to be more proactive in terms of undertaking better preventive maintenance of plants to forestall any major faults that might cause downtime in operations.
We have been witnessing rapid industrial expansion, which will definitely have an impact on water demand going forward. So we work closely with the off takers to understand how we can try to increase the capacity of our existing assets and to boost our own operational efficiencies that will guarantee increased output to meet current and future water needs.” Latifa Lahsine
MANY COUNTRIES IN THIS REGION HAVE AMBITIOUS TARGETS ON DECARBONISATION. HOW IS ENGIE SUPPORTING THESE INITIATIVES?
As you rightly mentioned, the whole world is now trending towards net zero and countries have set their own targets on reducing CO2 emissions. As ENGIE, we have own targets to be achieved by 2045. So all our new and old assets have been technically aligned to adapt to this strategy
In the area of desalination, which is my core business, we have been trying to find better ways of minimising power consumption, considering that desalination itself is an energy intensive industry.
For instance, we are trying to minimise the kilowatt used to produce one cubic meter of water. This is purely on the design side and we are constantly working closely with our EPC
contractors in order to further reduce that value. But we also are trying to be a bit more innovative again with our off takers that are in line with the strategy to implement a hybrid source of energy. So, we are introducing the solar PV and wind as source of energy to power desalination plants. We are already executing two projects, which are Jubail 3B in Saudi Arabia and Yanbu 4 that will have PV generation on site. Another project is coming up in Morocco that will integrate wind energy with desalination.
HOW CAN CURRENT RENEWABLE ENERGY SUPPORT GREEN DESALINATION INITIATIVES IN THE REGION?
What you need to understand is that, as a developer, we are limited by what the client is putting in the technical specification. So, according to this limitation on whether we are allowed to introduce renewable energy, we are trying to maximise that projection. Some of the clients are asking us to limit this prediction to 20%, for instance, some are more open and do not put any limit, and unfortunately some organisational project issues are just refusing any renewable energy to be implemented in addition to the potable water production. In that aspect, we are very much dependent on what the off taker wants to implement and how the government is seeing that. But on a positive note, we see generally in the GCC that many off takers are now wishing to integrate renewable energy into desalination operations. And as ENGIE, we will continue to align ourselves with the wishes of the off takers.
We definitely see huge potential for this in the region, especially with huge projects that are producing more than 100 MIGD. In such plants, the addition of renewable energy will definitely make a big difference in terms of bringing down tariffs. So it’s reducing the tariff and also giving us an added value in terms of environmental guidelines. And besides that, when you look at the financing of projects today, banks are today encouraging projects that are more aligned to overall national targets on decarbonisation. This is what green financing is all about. So, I would say that all the actors that are playing a major role in desalination are going ahead with the spirit of reducing SPC using renewables, because we are gaining from both fronts. The tariff is less and we are also supporting net zero efforts.
WHAT KEY TRENDS ARE LIKELY TO SHAPE THE FUTURE GCC DESALINATION?
In desalination we obviously have the Reverse Osmosis that I think will last for a few more years.
But you also have other desalination technologies such as the Forward Osmosis and other initiatives that can enable more efficient desalination. But unfortunately some of these technologies are not seen yet as being cost effective.
A few years back, I would say like 40 years ago, we were talking the same way about reverse osmosis. So, it will take a few more years for these technologies to mature and to be able to be implemented on mega projects that we are seeing today. So reverse osmosis and other initiatives such as forward osmosis and Nano filtration are definitely game changers in this industry, but we need also to tackle pre-treatment which is a major cost in in desalination.
New technologies are coming up also on that aspect and it is again up to the off taker to open up the technical specification to allow the developers such as us to propose new and innovative technologies.