Dubai turns to renewable energy for water production

Solar-powered reverse osmosis desalination is expected to become the new trend in Dubai’s water production as the emirate moves to meet its renewable energy targets

Jamal Shaheen Al Hammadi, DEWA, Solar desalination, Renewable energy desalination, Reverse osmosis, Luigi Di Maio

The cost of water production in Dubai is set to reduce as Dubai takes crucial steps to integrate renewable energy into seawater desalination processes.

Solar-powered reverse osmosis desalination is expected to become the new trend in Dubai’s water production as the emirate moves to meet its renewable energy targets.

The emirate depends on desalination for its potable water, with a water production capacity of 470 million gallons per day (MIGD). But the process is highly energy intensive and often seen as inefficient by conservationists.

But now, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is working on powering its desalinated water plants with solar power to generate 305 million gallons per day by 2030.

By using lower cost renewable energy to power desalination plants, Dubai’s main utility will save $13bn between now and 2030.

“Dubai is pushing for increased efficiency in the production of water. We are already in the final stages of a large scale integration of renewable energy in our water production processes,” said Jamal Shaheen Al Hammadi, Vice President – Clean Energy & Diversification Business Development & Excellence at DEWA.

“Photovoltaic reverse osmosis will now become the new trend as we aim for 100% renewable energy desalination in Dubai. This supports our efforts to boost water production in the emirate.”

Al Hammadi was speaking Monday in a panel discussion at the Italy-UAE Business Forum that included a 200 company-strong delegation from Italy led by Luigi Di Maio, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policy of the Italian Republic.

Early this year, DEWA said it had received 5 bids for an advisory services tender for a 120 MIGD (million imperial gallons per day) water desalination project in Hassyan. The plant is expected to come into operation in 2023.

This is the first project to use the Independent Water Producer (IWP) model in Dubai. The project will use Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO).

DEWA received 5 bids from Cranmore Partners from the UAE and UK; Synergy from India and the USA; Deloitte from the USA; PricewaterhouseCoopers from the UK, and Ernst & Young from the UK.

DEWA’s studies proved the technical and economic feasibility of replacing Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) desalination technology with solar-powered reverse osmosis using cheap clean energy.

“DEWA intends to desalinate all its water powered by a mix of clean energy that uses environmentally sustainable energy by 2030. This means Dubai will exceed global targets for using clean energy to desalinate water,” said Al Hammadi.

In 2014, Masdar awarded Degrémont, then a subsidiary of Suez Environment, a contract to build a desalination pilot plant in Abu Dhabi powered 100% by renewable energy and with the most energy-efficient processes.

Similar contracts were concurrently awarded to three other companies, Abengoa, Sidem/Veolia and Trevi Systems, with the pilots running from April 2014 through July 2016, after which, winners would be selected to move on to install a full-scale desalination plant.

In 2016, Suez launched its pilot 100 cubic meters per day reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, that showcases newer solutions to optimise energy at every stage of the water desalination process.

The new technologies were expected to lay the ground for the implementation of cost-competitive large-scale seawater desalination plants powered by renewable energy in the UAE and beyond.

 “The plant has been successfully tested to run 100% on solar power. This is an important step towards achieving our goals and a major breakthrough in the region’s desalination,” according to Pierre Pauliac, Middle East chief executive for Suez.

“There is no longer any doubt we can now run a desalination plant on solar power. Our next step now is to take these findings and apply them to industrial scale desalination.

“I am very optimistic that in the next eighteen months we will have solar panels powering large scale desalination plants because we have tried it and it will work.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated energy requirements of desalination in the Middle East, ranging from a low of 2.4% in Algeria to a high of 23.9% in UAE.

In the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, desalination and electricity generation alone currently requires burning approximately 1.5 barrels per day of crude equivalent.

The trend is similar for other GCC countries as well as in the North African countries, to whose water supply portfolios desalination contributes a significant share.

Dubai expects more than 8% of its total power output to be generated from clean energy by next year, exceeding the earlier set target of 7%.

This projection is based on the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 to generate 7% of Dubai’s total power output from clean energy by 2020, 25% by 2030 and 75% by 2050.


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