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B&V in the GCC

John Abi-Hanna, Black and Veatch, shares his insights into water issues confronting the Gulf.

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John Abi-Hanna, Black and Veatch.
John Abi-Hanna, Black and Veatch.

The Middle East suffers from acute water scarcity. What is the focus in the GCC as it relates to water?

John Abi-Hanna: Water demand here is high due to the lifestyles afforded by oil. In addition, the oil industry itself is thirsty. It is estimated an average of 40 barrels of water are needed for the production of one barrel of oil. In Middle Eastern states which do not have – or have not exploited – such natural resources, per capita consumption is lower. There tends to be less demand across both the domestic and industrial spectrum. Even within the GCC states, needs differ. Factors such as natural water resources, population size and distribution, and levels of urbanisation all affect the type of water services required.

Are current water practices sustainable?

The GCC states, where Black & Veatch is active, have the highest per-capita water consumption in the world, which is startling for such an arid region. While high consumption does not automatically equate to waste, there is recognition that current levels of usage are unsustainable. Around the world, we have seen that helping people recognise water’s value is central to any successful demand management strategy. It’s not that people have chosen to undervalue water, but rather, we need to be more effective at helping them understand its value.

What are the different ways to make people understand the value of water?

We have seen clients in many regions seeking to tackle water scarcity and water security successfully promote water’s value. Singapore introduced the Ten Litre Challenge for domestic users. The ABC Waters Programme transformed canals and reservoirs into recreational spaces in order to help people better value water resources. Drought in Western Australia led to the inclusion of the value of water in Australia’s school curriculum. Anglian Water, serving the UK’s driest region, has articulated the value of water through the integrated strategy and narrative called “Love Every Drop.”

Campaigns within the GCC are also raising awareness of water’s value. In Qatar, the Tarsheed campaign is targeting public spaces such as schools and mosques. Last summer, Saudi Arabia’s Water and Electricity Minister, H.E. Abdullah Al-Hussayen, said his ministry had launched a nationwide campaign to reduce water consumption by 30% through free distribution of water saving devices.

Should water entities take a closer look at tariffs?

Water tariffs that reflect more closely the cost of providing water services are another way of helping people understand water’s value. In the UK, it is estimated that homes with a meter consume 10% less water than unmetered dwellings.

This is a highly sensitive area, but it is to be applauded that a dialogue about water tariffs is beginning to be introduced into the debate about managing demand in the GCC. Alongside education measures, for instance, UAE’s Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) Director General, H.E. Mohammed Saleh, observed at the end of 2013 that FEWA may have to, “reconsider the current tariff for water services.”

From a future perspective, what are the persistent issues that need to be addressed?

In arid regions such as the Gulf, recognising that power and water are inextricably linked is crucial. To ensure the sustainable provision of both precious resources, the integrated planning and delivery of energy and water infrastructure provides the most efficient means to meet and manage demand. As a result, meeting governments’ objectives will increasingly require companies like ours – experts in delivering both water and energy projects. We’ll need to successfully combine insights from both.

Energy generation is water intensive and water services are energy intensive; cutting consumer demand for one will reduce consumption of the other. This is important to understand when customers in the GCC have some of the world’s highest per-capita demands for both.

How can technology help?

Technology has a significant role to play. For example, Saudi Arabia’s average thermal efficiency in generation is around 30 to 35%. Converting the kingdom’s single-cycle plants to combined-cycle is estimated to increase thermal efficiency to 40 to 45%. Combined cycle plants generate nearly 66% more energy per unit of water used compared to traditional gas fired plants. So, by understanding the technology and the nexus of water and energy, you begin to see a virtuous circle develop with more efficient generation coupled to a reduction in demand for water.

Are GCC leaders embracing this nexus of water and energy viewpoint?

We are starting to see enlightened leadership that recognises water and energy’s interrelationship. In January, for instance, the GCC’s Electricity Cooperation Committee announced it was beginning to explore the possibility of implementing the joint legal and legislative rules to strengthen rationalising the consumption of water and electricity.

What other types of infrastructure should GCC countries be investing in?

A paradigm shift in how we view wastewater could contribute significantly to meeting the Gulf’s water challenges. We need to start thinking of wastewater treatment works as resource recovery plants. Utilities need partners with the technological understanding of, and experience in, wastewater recycling, and how to unlock wastewater as a source of renewable energy and nutrients. By viewing water and wastewater holistically, rather than as separate entities, business cases can be made to create resources that can also fund growing infrastructure needs.

Does this include water reuse?

Interest in water reuse is growing. Abu Dhabi plans to reuse 100% of its treated wastewater for irrigation by 2018. That is up from the 7% of treated wastewater it uses currently. Water recycling technology means that virtually any population centre which creates a significant wastewater stream has the potential, through water recycling, to create a renewable water source.

How do you convince populations to embrace water reuse?

Black & Veatch’s international dialogue sessions to discuss the use of recycled water show that the introduction of recycling technology has to be preceded by an ongoing information campaign. Consumers’ misconceptions need to be overcome through clear, consistent and continuous communications about recycled water and its place within an integrated water portfolio. In addition, the communications need to emphasise the value of recycled water as a sustainable resource that will help meet future demands on the water supply.

Can GCC member states work together to solve water problems regionally, rather than individually?

Absolutely. The announcement by Abdel-Hussein Ben Ali Merza, Bahrain’s Minister of Electricity and Water, that the Gulf Cooperation Council is commencing studies for a common regional water network is an interesting area of future investment.

Across the world, large-scale transfers and integrated networks have been used to successfully help meet demand for water. So this is definitely worth looking into further in the GCC. Historically, Black & Veatch has been involved in such projects in the Middle East. In fact, we have been involved in large-scale transfer projects on every continent except Antarctica.

How can leaders better plan for the future?

There are two key areas here – asset management and knowledge transfer. For instance, it is predicted that more than $300bn will be invested in GCC water and desalination projects between 2012 and 2022. Asset creation, however, is only half the story. To deliver the levels of customer service and environmental performance that end-users and governments seek, the asset base needs to be managed effectively.

How can water entities do this?

PAS 55 is recognised around the world as the benchmark for asset management quality. Use of the specification in the GCC is growing. In fact, Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) announced last year the appointment of Black & Veatch to help it achieve PAS 55 certification.

Early in 2014, the International Organisation for Standardisation – commonly called the ISO – published ISO 5500X, the world’s first international suite of standards for asset management. We anticipate this will further increase the implementation of effective asset management regimes and help utilities in the GCC ensure their investments deliver the performance desired in the long-term.

How does this relate to knowledge transfer?

In addition to developing infrastructure, the GCC needs to develop people. Reliance on expat expertise to deliver and manage utility infrastructure is unsustainable. Knowledge transfer is now essential to a project’s success. The companies best-placed to meet this need will be those with a world-class understanding of energy and water technologies, and the ability to provide effective knowledge transfer programmes. For us, this means empowering local leaders and working to develop our client’s GCC professionals as well as our own. For example, as a result of our PAS 55 work with ADDC, the client’s teams will be empowered to make world-class performance business-as-usual.

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