Desalination’s ‘hidden assets’

Renewable hydropower generated at desalination plants and other existing infrastructure could bring economic and environmental benefits to Australia’s biggest cities, according to research findings from Griffith University.

From studies focused on Warragamba Dam - Sydney’s main water reservoir – Griffith scientists said their findings indicated new options for urban water and energy management.

Project leader Dr Oz Sahin, from Griffith University’s School of Engineering and Climate Change Response Programme, said there was particular merit in integrating infrequently used desalination plants into city water supply networks and planning agendas. “Integrated asset management using existing infrastructure is a calculated way of meeting the need for more efficient water management, including flood mitigation and water and energy storage,” he said.

The research demonstrated advantages in broadening the role of desalination plants, many of which have spent extended periods on standby said Sahin. “Just because circumstances mean the plants are spending long periods on standby, doesn’t mean they cannot be used in other beneficial ways.” Sahin said desalination plants were “hidden assets” that should be considered by government, industry and the water and power planners of our major cities.

“This research shows that building more dams isn’t necessarily the key to water security, but that it is better to consider what infrastructure is already there and how it can be used. For example, desalination plants can generate renewable hydropower for those times of peak demand in our cities by increasing supply during those hours,” Sahin said.

Co-authors of the research paper in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Professor Rodney Stewart (Griffith University School of Engineering), Professor Damien Giurco (University of Technology Sydney) and Professor Michael Porter (Deakin University) – said their findings revealed multiple opportunities for Sydney.

“Sydney’s interdependent goals of deferring capital intensive flood storage works, maintaining water security, better utilising existing desalination and hydropower assets, and increasing renewable energy generation, can be achieved through applying systems thinking to a complex city-wide water planning problem.”