JEDDAH: Amid freshwater scarcity, population dynamics and rapidly growing economy, Saudi Arabia - with an unlimited saltwater resources - is confronted with an urgent need to increase its sustainable supply of water. Desalination is set to be the key in the provision of clean water.
Against this backdrop, the four-day Saudi Water and Power Forum (SWPF) 2010 on the theme of “Sustainable Prosperity Through Knowledge, Innovation and Cooperation” kicks off Sunday (Oct. 3) at the Jeddah Hilton which is aimed at being a catalyst for change.
At the Forum, a new study on how the Kingdom can become a leader in water industry, among others, will be unveiled.
In emerging economies, major investment in water resource infrastructure is a high-priority area.
In this regard, managing the development of water desalination industries, regionally and internationally, call for the urgent need to implement plans and strategic studies.
Nomura International plc said in its industry report that installed desalination capacity worldwide is expected to almost double to 132.5 million m3/day by 2016 from an estimated installed desalination capacity of 69.8 million m3/day in 2009.
The study noted that Saudi Arabia needs new investments worth more than $50 billion for desalination projects during the next 10 years.
The Kingdom’s recent projects tend to focus on the industrial western and eastern part of the country where pipelines link supply to urban areas such as the third phase of the Yanbu desalination plant (Yanbu-III) which will feature three pipelines - one linking Ras Al- Zour with Riyadh, another with Hafr Al-Batin and Naeeriya, and the third for Yanbu-III, it added.
Most desalination in Saudi Arabia is through multi-stage flashing, but reverse osmosis has emerged as an important water desalination technology and is growing at a rate of 20 percent annually. The largest production from an individual installation is the Shuaibah III project in the Western province, serving Jeddah, Makkah and Taif, and producing 880,000 m3/d.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with its oil & gas-driven growth, accounts for half of existing capacity and 55 percent of expected growth through to 2016, it added.
The global desalination market is set to be worth $105 billion over the 2010-16 period (capex costs), according to DesalData.com, 50-60 percent of which will be directed toward the MENA region.
The desalination market in the MENA region could be worth $55 billion-$60 billion through to 2016, it added.
However, MENA region’s already scarce per capita water resources are likely to shrink further as the population expands. The population of MENA countries is expected to increase at an average of 1.6 percent per year between 2010 and 2020. This suggests that the population growth rate in the region will be among the highest in the world over the next decade, the report noted.
As a result of population growth, per-capita water resources in the MENA region are likely to decline faster than expected by around 15 percent between 2010 and 2020, while globally the average per-capita water resources are projected to decline by an average of 10 percent over the same period.
MENA accounts for 50 percent of world’s largest desalination plants, both online and in the planning stages, the report said.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq and Iran account for about 40 percent of the world’s desalination capacity. Saudi Arabia has headed the list of top 10 countries by total installed capacity since 1945, with the UAE the next highest GCC peer.
Within the MENA region, the report further said, Iraq has the highest level of per-capita water resources at 2,396m3, “but even this is less than half of the global average of 6,335m3.”
Kuwait has just 7m3 per person. The benchmark for a water shortage is 1,000m3, and Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon are the only countries in the region above this level.
The data revealed that agriculture accounts for a very large percentage of total water used. Although the percentages are lower (around 50 percent of total water withdrawal) for small countries such as Bahrain and Lebanon, agriculture accounts for 80-90 percent of water withdrawal in the majority of other countries in the region.
The bulk of agricultural water use is via irrigation systems, but a lot of water evaporates before it is put to effective use, the report noted, owing to the high temperatures and arid conditions in the MENA region.
The main factor determining future demand for water is likely to be industrial usage, Nomura said in the study.
In the majority of MENA countries, industrial withdrawal accounts for well under 10 percent of total water consumption, and in most MENA countries it is less than 50m3 per capita, substantially lower than the G8 average of 450m3, it noted.
Governments in the MENA region have adopted aggressive industrial diversification policies in a bid to redress imbalances in industrial structures currently heavily weighted toward oil and natural gas.
The study noted that MENA region has the fewest impediments to the introduction of desalination plants. Energy cost is not an issue, it added.
In general, electric power companies are the greatest industrial users of water, along with materials industries, including petrochemicals and steel. This suggests that industrial diversification centering on the materials sector, and the increased demand for electric power accompanying it, will result in higher industrial demand for water in the MENA region. And with substantial oil and gas reserves, desalination costs in the MENA region are among the lowest in the world, the study noted, saying that 70 percent or more of cities in the region are located on the coast or in adjacent regions.
The average installed capacity of desalination plants currently under, or scheduled for, construction is around 300,000m/day for multistage flash (MSF) distillation plants and around 70,000m/day for RO (reverse osmosis) membrane plants, with average construction costs per plant of around $500 million for MSF plants and around $75 million for RO plants.
Major projects are currently underway in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Desalination development has tended to rely on expansions of existing sites in multiple phases, such as the Jebel Ali complex in Dubai, where an additional 477,330 m3/d of capacity is currently under construction. The UAE has invested a total of $50 billion in power and desalination during the past 10 years.
Moreover, environmental concerns are adding to costs.
Although the region offers attractive growth prospects, increasingly there is concern over the long-term impacts that desalination has on the Arabian Gulf. It is suggested that as much as 65 tons of antiscalant, 24 tons of chlorine and almost 300kg of copper are pumped back into the Arabian Gulf daily from desalination plants around the region. While many of the chemicals for antiscalants are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and biodegradable, the deposits of minerals may provide an imbalance to the local ecosystem and establish the need for mineral recovery systems in desalination units, hence, increasing costs, the report added.