Solar-powered seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination, an electrically operated process, powered by either PV, wind or hybrid solar/wind is gaining traction in the Middle East, especially in the GCC region, for water production, said Harry Istepanian, an Independent Power and Water Consultant based in Washington DC, United States, elaborating on the progress the region is making in terms of renewable energy-powered desalination technologies.
Istepanian explained that desalination using SWRO is highly energy intensive and often seen as inefficient, as every one cubic metre of water desalination requires 2.5-4 kWh of electric power. “However, MED and MSF thermal technologies are more energy intensive, with aggregated energy equivalent of 10-16 kWh for distilling each cubic metre of water,” he added. “We are seeing solar-powered SWRO happening quite fast and on a larger scale.”
To underscore the point, Istepanian pointed out that last year, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) announced its plan to generate 305 million gallons per day of desalinated water by 2030 using solar-powered reverse osmosis to meet its renewable energy targets. “This means Dubai will exceed global targets for using clean energy to desalinate water if the plan goes ahead,” he said. “This is the latest in a row. In 2014, Masdar awarded Degrémont, a subsidiary of Suez Environment, a contract to build a desalination pilot plant in Abu Dhabi powered 100% by renewable energy.” He further added that in 2016, Suez launched its pilot 100 cubic metres per day reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, owned by Masdar. “We expect new technologies to lay the ground for the implementation of cost-competitive, large-scale seawater desalination plants powered by renewable energy, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I think renewable energy will bring sustainability to meet the future demand for water and will reduce the reliance on traditional sources of energy for producing water.”