Experts urge Gulf investment in desalination energy efficiency

Two prominent water experts have urged Gulf Cooperation Council utility providers and businesses to invest in energy efficient desalination to reduce the technology’s carbon footprint and high power costs.

The messages from the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar, Dr Ahmad Belhoul, and the chief executive of Saudi-based ACWA Power, Paddy Padmanathan, came ahead of the International Water Summit (IWS) in Abu Dhabi. They warned: “A sustainable water future can only be achieved if potable water is produced without compromising the environment.”

The comments by Belhoul and Padmanathan were “driven” by the launch by Masdar of the Global Clean Water Alliance at the Paris environmental summit in December.

The alliance is an international coalition of more than 80 members seeking to reduce annual global carbon emissions from desalination by up to 270 tonnes before 2040.

“Propelled by population growth and urban development, demand for potable water will continue to grow exponentially in the UAE. Recognising the critical link between water and energy, Abu Dhabi, through Masdar, is investing in advancing cutting-edge, technologies to improve the efficiency and to reduce the environmental impact of desalination processes in the UAE, and ultimately across the globe,” said Belhoul.

“Water is a precious and crucial resource in ensuring our sustained economic and social growth. Developing innovative technologies that can sustainably source clean water is vital, not only for the UAE, but for the Gulf and many other regions of the world. Masdar , and our partners, are pursuing on-the-ground, tangible innovations that will lead to commercial solutions that can be rolled out locally, regionally, and globally.”

In November 2015 Masdar launched the operational stage of a pilot programme in Abu Dhabi, producing potable water to demonstrate commercially-viable renewable-powered desalination operating at a greatly reduced energy demand.

Energy consumption for desalination in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is expected to surge according to recent research. In Saudi Arabia, the study found it would grow from about 48,000 GWh in 2006 to 119,000 GWh by 2025. In UAE it is was predicted to top 145,000 GWh by 2025 from 65,000 GWh in 2006.

The same study concluded that energy efficient technology could cut 17% from the electricity consumed for desalination in Saudi Arabia, and 16 per cent in the UAE by 2025. More than US$ 300 billion is currently being invested in GCC water and desalination projects between 2012 and 2022.

Padmanathan said that advances in technology were already bringing on low-energy water production.

“Although some of these technologies are still in their infancy, we have seen their potential, and there are extensive research and investments being made in the region towards reaping the benefits of energy efficient water production. It is now up to all stakeholders in the water community to research, develop, and implement these new discoveries,” he said.

Developments in low-energy and carbon-neutral water production will form the core of the IWS conference programme.