Combining water capacity and availability

Beyond ramping up desalination capacity, GCC utilities will need to guarantee long-term water security

Water infrastructure, Desalination, Seawater desalination, Public-private participation

Over the coming months, GCC governments are expected to accelerate investment in water infrastructure to stem rising demand from a growing population and mushrooming industries.

Total expenditure on new desalination capacity is expected to reach $100bn by 2020 according to industry experts, as the region aims to increase its total seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% in the next two years.

The GCC’s current seawater desalination capacity of approximately 4,000 million imperial gallons a day (MIGD) is set to increase to more than 5,500MIGD over the next 5 years.

RO technology for desalination has overcome the challenges related to pre-treatment of RO feed water, and a number of plants including the new Al Zawrah desalination plant that will utilise Ultrafiltration (UF) membranes. Desalination potential in the GCC is increasingly attracting both domestic and international companies in the bidding process.

Investments in the water sector have been on the rise since 2010, with several projects under execution or bidding/tendering stage, despite the recent slowdown in infrastructure expenditure. These projects are covering all segments of the water sector, including desalination, independent water and power projects (IWPP), water transmission and distribution, repair and replacement of networks, wastewater treatment and produced water treatment.

GCC countries are also taking requisite steps to overcome known challenges of streamlining public-private participation (PPP), utilities in debt, improving accountability and investment framework.

Utility scale solar desalination is also on the horizon following the success of a pilot project led by Abu Dhabi renewable energy company, Masdar to desalinate water using solar power. Saudi headquartered Abdul Latif Jameel Energy (ALJ Energy) has hinted on plans to integrate renewable energy in its desalination processes as part of its wider sustainability strategy. Also, Metito has recently signed a $60mn contract with King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) for the design and construction of a seawater desalination plant powered by solar.

Improvements in desalination alone will not guarantee water security to the region. That is why regional governments are taking other measures, from sensitisation drives geared towards entrenching water conservation practices to new projects aimed at storing water for longer periods. In January, the UAE took a big, bold step to ensure water security for its residents by unveiling the world’s largest reserve of artificially desalinated water.

The reserve exists in an aquifer under the Liwa desert at the southern edge of the country, about 160 km away from the desalination plants located at the coast. It contains about 26 billion litres of water, and needed 26 months to fill it up. In case of emergencies, the reserve can provide about 100 million litres of water a day.

By taking a comprehensive approach towards addressing water problems in the region, GCC utilities appear to be on the right course. But in the medium to long-term, technology adoption/upgrade and compelling sustainability targets, together, can help the GCC reduce the demand-supply gap and aid preservation of resources for future.


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