Outlook Bright For Solar-Powered Desalination


UAE utility Utico Middle East's proposed solar-powered desalination plant would be the latest addition to a growing number of projects that are utilising renewables to power the energy intensive desalination process in the GCC region. We have highlighted for some time that this type of project has the potential to offer economic and environmental benefits, given that oil could be conserved for export purposes instead of being used as feedstock to power desalination, and that the region has abundant solar power potential.

UAE-based utility, Utico Middle East, which specialises in the water, wastewater, power and steam sectors, is reportedly planning on building a 20MW solar power facility in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, with the power generated from the plant used to fuel a seawater, reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plant. The tender for the construction of the project is expected to be launched by the company in December 2013. This is not the first project of its kind, and we have been following the solar-powered desalination industry over the past year as the technology gains traction amongst members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Masdar recently launched a pilot project in the UAE and other plans have been mooted in Saudi Arabia and Qatar (see, 'Sun Shines On Desalination', January 21).

Light Shining On Desalination

We believe that solar-powered desalination technology presents a practical and potentially lucrative option to help meet the Gulf States' growing demand for desalination plants and combat deep-rooted water security issues - and we expect to see the technology grow in prominence in the GCC.

The process of desalination and the transportation of the seawater to urban areas, is expensive and extremely energy intensive; typically powered by hydrocarbons, notably oil. However, the long-term sustainability of this process is questionable, both in economic and environmental terms, considering water demand will no doubt increase and the need for oil-powered desalination will also rise accordingly. We are already witnessing countries in the Middle East and GCC take steps to exploit their considerable insolation rates in order to produce power, as a means of conserving greater volumes of oil for export.

Solar On The Rise
UAE Solar Capacity and Generation, 2013-2022

As such, using solar resources for desalination provides another avenue in which to save oil for export purposes, thus boosting export revenues. We therefore maintain our view that the technology will gain prominence in the coming years as the issue of water scarcity rises up the political agenda and powering vast numbers of conventional desalination plants using traditional fuel sources becomes unsustainable.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Renewables
Geography: United Arab Emirates