Installed desalination growth slowed in 2011‑2012

Installed desalination capacity around the world rose by only 9% last year to reach 78.4 million m³/d, according to the latest data published by the International Desalination Association (IDA) and Global Water Intelligence (GWI).

This compares with a 10.5% increase between 2010 and 2011. Installed capacity was 65.1 million in 2010 and 71.9 million in 2012.

Christopher Gasson, publisher of GWI, says on his website, “The first half of 2012 has been the worst six months the industry has experienced in the past decade. Only 1.3 million m³/d of new capacity was contracted. At the peak of the desalination industry in 2006, more than 7 million m³/d of new capacity was contracted over the year.”

However, the past five years has seen a 57% increase in the capacity of installed desalination plants, according to the latest edition of the IDA/GWI Worldwide Desalting Plant Inventory.

“Growth in desalination is not linear, and it is tied to many other factors including the cost of oil, prices of certain commodities and availability of financing,” said Patricia Burke, secretary general of IDA. However, the underlying factors that have driven the growth of desalination remain in place, including population growth, industrial development, pollution of traditional water resources, and climate change.”

“At the same time,” Burke added, “the desalination industry has done much to lower the cost of desalination by developing technologies that lower energy requirements, implementing practices that achieve greater operational efficiency, and adopting measures to enhance environmental stewardship.”

The growth of the market for desalination reflects the fact that coastal communities are increasingly turning to the sea to meet their drinking water needs, says IDA, while inland there is a tendency for groundwater to become increasingly brackish over time. Around 60% of desalination capacity treats seawater; the remainder treats brackish and less saline feedwater.

Historically, large-scale desalination has mainly been built in the Gulf region where there is no alternative for public water supply. The combination of lower-cost membrane desalination and increased water scarcity means that big desalination plants are now being built outside the Gulf.

The largest membrane desalination plant in the world – the 444,000 m³/d Victoria Desalination Plant in Melbourne Australia – came on line last month and is included in the inventory, but it will be soon be surpassed by the 500,000 m³/d Magtaa plant in Algeria and the 510,000 m³/d Soreq plant in Israel. Work should start soon on the largest seawater desalination plant in the USA, the 189,000 m³/d Carlsbad project.

The largest thermal desalination plant in the world is the 880,000 m³/d Shoaiba 3 desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, although this will be displaced in 2014 as the largest desalination plant in the world by the 1,025,000 m³/d Ras Al Khair (Ras Azzour) project in Saudi Arabia, which uses both membrane and thermal technology.

Desalination is now practiced in 150 countries, from Australia to China and Japan, the United States, Spain and other European countries, the Middle East and North Africa.