Gulf nations poised for 40% boost to desalination output by 2020

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is poised to up its seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% by 2020 to meet the growing demand for drinking water, according to a recent report.

The GCC current capacity of around 4,000 million imperial gallons a day (20 Gl/d) will grow to 27.5 Gl/d reported MEED Projects in a joint announcement with the International Water Summit and renewable energy company, Masdar.

Current demand in the region is around 15 Gl/d and is expected to grow to 27 Gl/d by 2020, the report said. But it warned that ageing plants fail to operate at full capacity making current estimates inaccurate. It highlighted Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait as countries that have struggled to meet demand, particularly during summer.

Abu Dhabi imposed water tariffs on UAE nationals for the first time this year, and increased prices for expatriate users, following a similar move by Dubai in 2010 which slowed growth in consumption from 10% to 4%.

Director at MEED Projects, Ed James, said: “Our data shows that over the last 10 years, the region has invested US$ 76 billion in standalone water projects. If we add the power component investment of these desalination facilities, that figure exceeds well over
US$ 100 billion.”

He said energy intensive thermal distillation technologies that have long been the dominant desalination methods in the region have become less attractive. This, he said, emerges as GCC states burn increasing amounts of hydrocarbons that could be conserved exported or exploited to develop heavy industry. Much of the future investment will, he forecasted, go to developing less energy-intensive methods of desalination, such as reverse osmosis (RO) membrane technology.

Masdar in 2013 launched a pilot programme in the UAE to test and develop energy-efficient seawater desalination technologies powered by renewable energy.