Reducing Carbon Footprint of Desalination ‘Crucial’ to Achieving Water Sustainability in the GCC
GCC utility providers and businesses must invest in energy efficient water desalination to reduce the carbon footprint and hefty expenses associated with increased power consumption, urge experts.
Driven by the launch of the Global Clean Water Alliance, which was announced by Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar at Paris-based COP21 last week, the message from experts to stakeholders in the water industry is loud and clear: a sustainable water future can only be achieved if potable water is produced without compromising the environment.
The Alliance, an international coalition of more than 80 members, is aiming to reduce carbon emissions from desalination by up to 270 metric tonnes annually before 2040.
Speaking ahead of the upcoming International Water Summit (IWS) in Abu Dhabi, where developments in low-energy and carbon neutral water production will form the core of the conference programme, Dr. Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar, highlighted the interconnected relationship between water and energy.
“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 Dr 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 its pilot programme in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, which will see 1,500 m3/day of potable water produced over the next 15 months using four unique technologies that will demonstrate commercially-viable and energy-efficient solutions for renewable-powered desalination. The project aims to dramatically reduce the energy intensity of desalination.
Energy consumption for desalination in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is expected to increase considerably in line with rising water demand, almost tripling between 2006 and 2025, according to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Thermal and Environmental Engineering.
In Saudi Arabia, the annual total energy consumption for desalination was about 48,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 2006 and is expected to reach just above 119,000 GWh by 2025. The figures for the UAE are equally staggering – annual total energy consumption for desalination was almost 65,000 GWh in 2006 and could nearly triple to more than 145,000 GWh by 2025.
However, energy efficient technology could save as much as 17 per cent of electricity consumed for desalination in Saudi Arabia, and 16 per cent in the UAE in 2025, according to the same research. And with more than USD 300 billion being invested in GCC water and desalination projects between 2012 and 2022, this energy-saving potential could soon become a reality.
Paddy Padmanathan, CEO of Saudi-based ACWA Power and a speaker at IWS 2016, explained that advances in technology are already enabling low-energy water production.
“Reverse Osmosis plants such as those in the US have achieved consuming low rates of energy, however a majority of desalination plants still operate at higher energy consumptions levels. This is generally because of the outdated technology used in these plants, which itself is the result of high capital costs involved in the implementation of new technologies,” said Padmanathan.
Reducing the energy consumed by fossil-fuel powered desalination plants also leads to a considerable decrease in carbon emissions. Reverse Osmosis plants, for example, produce about 90 per cent less emissions when compared to traditional thermal desalination methods, such as Multi-Stage Flash.
This, along with developments in membrane filtration and solar-powered desalination methods, is forging a path to a sustainable water future for the region, says Padmanathan.
“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.
IWS takes place from 18-21 January at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and brings together world leaders, field experts, academia luminaries, and business innovators to accelerate the development of new sustainable strategies and technologies.