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Securing GCC water

The GCC region has over the past few years adopted a strategy that aims to expand its total seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% by 2020 in an effort to meet the rapidly increasing demand for potable water in the region.

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Water, DEWA, Saudi arabia, CESI, Sustainability

While 5% of the world’s population resides in the Middle East and North Africa, the region has less than 1% of the world’s available water supply but is home to the highest consumers of water in the world. In United Arab Emirates (UAE) alone daily per capita water consumption averages 500 litres, about 82% above the global average.

GCC governments along with water solutions providers and water researchers are now instigating a balance between innovation and regulation to address a looming water crisis in the region.

The GCC region has over the past few years adopted a strategy that aims to expand its total seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% by 2020 in an effort to meet the rapidly increasing demand for potable water in the region.

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 as the GCC states invest heavily in increasing potable water supply.

With the depletion of groundwater, desalination has over the years become the primary source of potable water in GCC countries such as UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have experienced rapid rises in demand for water on the back of strong economic and population growth.

Currently, demand for potable water in the region is about 3,300MIGD, and is expected to grow to about 5,200MIGD by 2020. While current reserve margins between supply and demand appear to be at comfortable levels, at country and local network levels the supply-demand gaps are much smaller.

For example, while UAE has enjoyed comfortable reserve margins in recent years, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait have faced real challenges meeting demand, especially during the summer months. Ageing plants also do not always operate at full design capacity, further reducing the theoretical total output.

Focus of the water sector in the region is shifting towards sustainable practices, wastewater treatment and recycling, with several utilities and water agencies announcing noticeable projects indicating start of a technological turnaround for the region. Governments in the GCC have allocated approximately $100bn towards implementing better water technologies and energy-efficient desalination.

Urban water supply in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is already above 90% coverage, with the majority of this water (up to 80%) sourced through desalination. In the next couple of years, it is anticipated that water supply in urban regions will reach 100% coverage in these countries.

Utilities such as DEWA (Dubai electricity and Water Supply), are leading by example with Moody’s Investors Services upgrading the company’s rating to investment grade. This has been a result of operational improvements and a sound financial profile.

Investments in the water sector have been on the rise over the past few months, with several projects under execution or bidding/tendering stage. 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.

In December, Saudi Arabia said it would spend more than SR9 billion ($2.4 billion) in building infrastructure for key water projects in the Makkah region. The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which is responsible for the desalination of seawater, producing and supplying electricity and water to various regions in the Kingdom, recently signed several contracts aimed at increasing water supply to some governorates in the Makkah region as well as ensuring supply to areas without water.

These projects include the construction of Phase Four of a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant at Shoaiba in Jeddah, the transfer of technology and the purchase of produced water at the Shoaiba power and desalination plant, and the Shoaiba-Mina water transfer system.

In the Taif region, work is on to lay water pipelines from Arafat besides implementation of pumping stations, stated the report. The projects also include the manufacture and supply of the Rabigh-Jeddah-Makkah water transfer system and installation of pumping stations.

A consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power was in December awarded a contract to develop the Salalah Independent Water Project in Oman. Veolia and Dhofar International Development and Investment Co (DIDIC) are also a part of the consortium that was awarded the contract by Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP).

The plant will be located in Dhofar region and will have the capacity to generate 25 million gallons per day of desalinated water using reverse osmosis technology. OPWP is procuring the contract through the build-own-operate (BOO) model under a 20-year water purchase agreement (WPA). Dhofar Desalination Company, the company developing the project, will be owned by the consortium.

In 2016, Muscat Water, a joint venture between Al Sulaimi Group Holding and AquaSwiss AG, completed the construction of its water desalination plant in Qurayat. The plant will produce 8,000 cubic metres of desalinated water per day for supplying potable water to Qurayat and nearby villages.

Muscat Water aims to produce potable water at very competitive prices through unique differentiating technologies, to assure a high local Omani content, and to develop significant in–country-value through the deployment of Omani manpower and local manufacturing capabilities in its projects.

French company Engie announced in November that the Mirfa Independent Water and Power Plant (IWPP) in Abu Dhabi was now into full commercial operation. The plant adds 1,600 MW of power and 52.5 million gallons (around 200,000 m3) per day (MIGD) of seawater desalination capacity.

The construction of the $1.5bn IWPP, located 160 kilometres away from Abu Dhabi, was initiated in October 2014. It is owned by ENGIE (20%), Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) (60%) and Abu Dhabi Financial Group (20%).

Developed under a full turn-key engineering, procurement and construction contract (EPC), the project integrates the acquisition of an existing 22.5 MIGD (85,000 m3 per day) water production facilities and associated infrastructure along with the acquisition, refurbishment, erection and commissioning of four GE 9E gas turbines with a combined net capacity of 360 MW acquired from the Al Mirfa Power Company.

In August, the UAE’s Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) said it would increase capacity of Ghalilah desalination plant. The Ghalilah facility, in Ras al Khaimah, whose original project was awarded to Aquatech in 2011, will increase capacity from 15 to 45 million imperial gallons a day (68,000 to 205,000 m3/d).

FEWA, which supplies water and electricity to the northern emirates Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, and Umm al Quwain, also plans to build a 45 million gallons a day (205,000 m3/d) seawater reverse osmosis plant in the north of Umm al Quwain in what is anticipated to be the first privately financed project in UAE. Thirteen consortia have reportedly pre-qualified.

A further desalination plant project proposed for Al-Zawra, Ajman, will have capacity of 30 million gallons a day (136,000 m3/d). FEWA may consider exporting water owing to “the efficiency of the new plants”.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) in desalination continues to gain prominence in the region as opposed to thermal technology. Its reliability, sustainability and quality are therefore of critical importance to water consumers and of equal concern to water suppliers.

Since the introduction of RO technology, the number of membrane-based desalination plants has increased sharply, and these currently account for 73% of the overall global installed capacity of 88.6 million m3/day from 18,983 plants. 27% of plants worldwide still rely on thermal technology, with 73% using multi-stage flash (MSF) and 27% relying on multi-effect distillation (MED).

The RO process purifies water by forcing it through a semipermeable membrane, which retains most of the organic and inorganic species present. Purified water is collected as ‘permeate’ while the ‘concentrate’ part, or brine, is discarded.

Dow Water’s factory in Jubail City, Saudi Arabia, underpins the company’s determination to tap into the growing demand for technology solutions in the GCC.

A considerable quantity of Filmtech reverse osmosis (RO) elements are already being shipped from the factory since it opened last year, the first such plant to be built by Dow Water and Process Solutions (DW&PS) outside of the US where it is headquartered.

The wide adoption of renewable energy in the GCC is now beginning to find its way into the desalination space amidst growing calls for energy efficiency in water production.  The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Masdar, announced last year that it had started testing three systems to capture solar heat as part of its Renewable Energy Desalination Programme, to develop water desalination stations with greater energy efficiency and commercial advantage.

The three systems were installed at the site of the Masdar Renewable Energy Desalination Programme in Ghantoot. Evaluated with the participation of Imperial Energy, EMSOL Innovations and GREENone Tec, the systems work by capturing the sun’s heat to strengthen the process of desalinating sea water, as an alternative to burning natural gas.

Wind power has also emerged as another renewable energy for alternative to power desalination plants in UAE. A new study by Masdar Institute shows that the cost of producing water for the UAE’s natural water storage structures, and the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the process, could be reduced using wind power for the desalination.

Because wind speeds in the UAE are low, the university partnered in the project with Synlift Industrial Products of Germany, which provides solutions for low-wind sites. Their study concluded that the cost of producing 1,000 litres of water would arrive at between $1.6 (EUR 1.43) and USD 2.1. This is slightly below the cost of producing freshwater via thermal-powered desalination, before adding avoided emissions to the calculation.

The use of other renewable energy sources, such as nuclear and geothermal energy, to supply water in Abu Dhabi has also been investigated.

The Russian Federation national nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has stated that its subsidiary, Atomenergomash (AEM), possesses a generalised solution for the integration of a desalination facility into a nuclear power plant (NPP) based on the VVER-1000 or VVER-1200 reactors. A classic example of this type of integration are the co-generation units that have been operating at Russian NPPs for many years, and are used to heat population centres in the vicinity.

According to Rosatom, calculations show that if an NPP is constructed with a reactor that has a capacity of 1,200 MW 8 % of the total steam flow could be directed for desalination, which corresponds to a productivity for the MED-facility of 170 thousand m3/d. The integration of these two types of activities needs to be done at the design stage, and results in costs savings thanks to the joint effective use of resources (steam, hydraulic structures, supporting systems) and also creates synergy.

Technological advancements in smart water networks (SWNs) are helping GCC water utility operators boost efficiency and proactively manage and control distribution systems. The principal objective of implementing such a network is to improve performance by optimising system operations, rather than relying solely on capital improvements.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, smart meters, and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) are helping operators locate utility assets, monitor water usage and system operations, track trends, and remotely control pumps and strategic valves.

Utilities have signed lucrative deals with solutions providers to integrate smart solutions for the effective management of water assets as well as enabling operational efficiency across the value chain.

Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) has so far installed 18,000 Smart Meters which can significantly contribute to ensure the accuracy of the meter readings and identify the actual amount of electricity consumption and aims to replace all conventional meters in its strategic plan for 2020.

To emphasise the need for innovation, SEWA has signed long term partnership agreements with globally recognised brands such as Siemens, ABB, GE, Rolls Royce and IBM to amplify the use of smart technologies across various operations in the hope to enhance service delivery.

There are more water utilities enthusiastically wading into the world of smart leak prevention since leak control programmes have a clear payback. The ability to capture lost and unbilled water increases revenue and reduces water production costs for cities.

Oxford Flow, a developer of flow control technologies, signed its first deal in the GCC with SEWA. The Oxford University spin-off will be trialling its diaphragm-free Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) in the water network in the emirate of Sharjah.

In November, Germany’s Diehl Metering and Saudi Arabia’s Abunayyan Holding signed a strategic cooperation agreement that will include building a state-of-the-art final assembly line in Saudi Arabia for ultrasonic water meter technology.

CESI, a technical consulting and engineering company headquartered in Italy was recently awarded the second phase of the Automated Meter Reading (AMR) technology implementation project by Nama Group (NG) Oman. The objective of the AMR rollout is to implement a central system in order to obtain customer readings remotely.

Xylem, a leading global water technology company, announced the opening of a new office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2016. The new office is part of Xylem’s $35mn investment in the Middle East North Africa region, which includes additional resources to help provide localised products, services and capabilities in key markets throughout the region.

Despite a general slowdown in new infrastructure projects across the GCC, optimism remains high in the water sector. Over the next months, the GCC is expected to step up its investments on water infrastructure as demand reaches unprecedented levels. But great emphasis is likely to be placed on the integration of smart solutions into water management systems to guarantee operational and asset optimisation.

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