Desalination orders flood in
For much of the last decade there has been an oversupply of desalination plants, but that is less true today. Business is picking up globally, with a wave of large plants in the pipeline. Traditionally, most desalination has been carried out in areas such as the Middle East, North Africa and California, USA, and they continue to invest heavily.
The largest impediment to faster adoption is cost and there are concerns about gaseous emissions from the power plants on site or at the grid supplier. The giant plants can have water cost escalation from grid supply outages and monopoly pricing and by under utilisation. Security of large plants is beginning to be a worry. All of this is being tackled by off grid zero emission electricity for desalination using new technology, process improvements and plants that perform many functions as analysed in the new IDTechEx report, Desalination: off grid zero emission 2018-2028. It predicts that, coming from very little in 2018, off grid zero emission desalination, including for brackish water, will be a rapidly growing $35 billion market in 2028. The report looks closely at its roadmap of exciting new desalination and electricity technologies that will boost performance and reduce cost, in particular the two reducing what is the largest cost element – electricity. Here is some of the progress in the order books for desalination as the problems and solutions rapidly embrace replenishing water tables, lakes and rivers, not just supplying current agricultural, industrial and drinking water needs.
The huge population of China is going to get very thirsty as some of its water tables are depleted. The Chinese Government says that by 2030 the water shortage in China’s coastal areas will be 21.4 billion cubic metres a day, so it plans three million tonnes of desalinated water a day by 2020. Progress towards this was rapid to 2010, then stalled, most going to industry because domestic price was unacceptable so regional government prevaricated.
However, in 2018, China has 131 seawater desalination plants still 66.6 percent supplying industry. The official view is that, “China will speed up the legislation on seawater utilisation, expand the use of seawater and address public concerns over drinking desalinated water,” so no more kicking the (water) can down the road. Beijing plans a quadrupling of seawater desalination to 3.6 billion litres daily by 2020. Meanwhile, just one wastewater project over five years is clocking in at $15 billion. The Chinese Government will ensure China makes its own desalination creating major exports, but it is a long way from doing that.
India is the conundrum, with its states often failing to recycle efficiently or cooperate in water conservation or diversion, so parts are water rich and other parts, such as Tamilnadu, have dry rivers and parched land. Most of the country cannot yet afford desalination at current prices, and in much of India the water table drops 0.3 metres yearly and its population is set to overtake China.
India has some desalination plants and if desalination energy costs come down – for example by using abundant solar power, wind and ocean power, bigger plants, standardised smaller plants designed and made locally and solar and wind power pumping water inland – it will have much more desalination. Intakes, effluent waste killing sea life and excessive water use by agriculture remain among the issues.
Abu Dhabi has invited international firms to express interest in building one of the world’s biggest water desalination plants, as the capital of the United Arab Emirates boosts capacity to meet rising demand, says a senior official in January 2018.
“The project, estimated to cost between $600 million and $1.2 billion, will have a capacity of 200 million gallons per day,” Adil al-Saeedi, acting director of privatisation at the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), told Reuters.
Companies are likely to be prequalified by the second quarter of this year with a developer for the project selected by the third quarter, he said. The developer will own up to 40 percent of a special purpose vehicle that will sign a long-term agreement to sell water to ADWEA, which will directly or indirectly own the rest of the equity in the project. Abu Dhabi’s current water production capacity is around 960 million gallons per day from 10 desalination plants.
Egypt is building the world’s largest desalination plant. Another giant is proposed, in response to an anticipated reduction in Nile river water flows into Egypt when Ethiopia completes construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The dam’s completion was expected in 2017, however the project is running behind schedule.
Egypt relies almost entirely on the Nile for water, and estimates suggest that filling up the new dam will reduce Nile water flowing into Egypt by 20 percent. In November 2017, talks between Egypt and Ethiopia over sharing Nile river water broke down. Under the terms of the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic metres and Sudan gets 18.5 billion cubic metres of Nile waters, however Ethiopia was not party to the agreement.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is expected to be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa when it completes, with capacity to generate 6450 megawatts.
In Morocco, Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch’s Moroccan Sahara’ wind-powered desalination project will provide irrigation for 5000 hectares of agricultural land in the Dakhla Oued-Eddahab region.
Kenya plans its Simoni Integrated Development Project (SIDEP) to regenerate a former slave trading port into an international import and export hub, including a desalination plant as part of an electricity generation scheme whose cost is pegged at KES 9.3 trillion ($90 billion). The desalination plant will generate 10,000 megawatts and reportedly it may be capacitive – not a popular technology. The plant will support mining, mineral processing and agriculture.
Site preparation for the Monwabisi desalination plant has kicked off in Cape Town as the City prepares projects to bring additional water supply online to combat the unprecedented drought. The Monwabisi desalination plant is one of seven projects earmarked for development in the first phase of the City of Cape Town’s Additional Water Supply Program. The seven projects include the Monwabisi, Strandfontein, V&A Waterfront and the Cape Town Harbour desalination plants, the Atlantis and Cape Flats Aquifer projects, and the Zandvliet water recycling project, which will collectively produce an additional 196 million litres per day between February and July 2018. In addition, the City has 12 projects at an advanced planning stage.
An expected $10 billion investment in 2017-2023 will add 5.7 million cubic metres per day of new production capacity. This capacity is expected to double by 2030.
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