Next generation desalination technologies, powered by renewables, could be invaluable in meeting California’s water needs and help the drought ravaged state become more resilient, according to Masdar, a leading clean technology company based in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. Masdar is attending the annual International Solar Desalination (IDA) World Congress in San Diego, where the company is leading several workshops during the six-day conference, which is expected to attract thousands of water technology professionals.
Home to 1.4 million people, the United States’ eighth largest city is attempting to meet its own water challenges with the construction of a US$1 billion desalinated plant, scheduled to be fully operational later this year. Mired in its third year of drought, municipalities throughout California are considering building at least 15 desalination plants.
With the exception of the San Diego facility, however, the state’s desalination plants are in the planning stage, as financial and environmental concerns have stalled the projects since the first proposed plants were discussed in the 1970s. But a pilot renewable energy desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, could lead to long-term solutions for California municipalities threatened by water shortages.
The Ghantoot project is a partnership between Masdar and four other clean technology companies – the Spanish multinational Abengoa, the French water technology firms Veolia and SUEZ, and California start-up Trevi Systems.
“When it comes to water security, the world should look towards the United Arab Emirates, as this country has long been challenged to maintain a growing economy and, for the past few years, has made sustainable development a long-term priority,” said Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar. “The Gulf region’s harsh desert climate, which can experience temperatures over 50°C in the summer, inspires opportunities for innovation and investment in new desalination processes.
“Desalination has long played a large role in the UAE’s economic transformation, but it is also an expensive and energy-intensive process. Now, however, more efficient desalination technologies, coupled with cost-effective renewable energy, could bring down desalination’s cost dramatically in the near future. At the desalination pilot project in Ghantoot, Masdar is driving innovation for next-generation water desalination using clean technologies.”
Selected from 180 bids, the four participating companies have either launched, or are close to completing, their own test plants to develop and demonstrate next-generation desalination technologies over the course of 18 months.
The four test plants will demonstrate innovation in advanced membrane technologies, such as reverse osmosis and forward osmosis, which are more energy efficient than the thermal processes standard within the global desalination industry. During the second stage, the plants will operate on a larger scale, powered by renewable energy, with the goal of operating a commercial scale facility by 2020. When working at full capacity, the commercial scale plant will provide 1,500 cubic meters of potable water daily, meeting the needs of approximately 500 homes.
With the Gulf region’s population projected to grow dramatically in the next decade, the region, which accounts for 50 per cent of the world’s desalination capacity, will have a greater demand for potable water. These challenges are analogous to those California is facing. While the state’s water agencies are targeted to meet California’s mandate to reduce water consumption by 20 per cent by 2020, analysts say those savings will not be enough to meet population growth a decade later.
“California’s need to create enough water for its 39 million people and its rapidly growing renewable energy industry, place the IDA’s annual meeting at a most opportune location,” said Mohamed El Ramahi, Associate Director, Asset Management, Engineering and Operations, who is representing Masdar in San Diego. “I look forward to meeting with local and international water technology leaders and share ideas on how we can all address water scarcity. Masdar and its partners’ progress made on renewable energy desalination present potential business opportunities in California as everyone seeks solutions to guarantee long-term water security.”
Jerry Brown, Governor of California, has long been an advocate of clean energy, and has called for the state to generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2030. The state is the first in the U.S. to generate more than five per cent of its electricity from utility scale solar, and is also home to thriving renewable energy and clean technology sectors.