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Desalination plants to run on renewable energy in Abu Dhabi

Silvia Radan / 6 May 2014

Four international renewable energy companies have been awarded the contracts for the pilot project on the border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Nearly a third of the UAE’s green house gas emissions, which are produced by burning conventional fossil fuel, comes from desalination plants. Plans to create these plants running on renewable energy have finally been set in motion by Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar.

John Webley, CEO, Trevi Systems; Faraj El Awar, programme manager, UN Habitat; Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO, Masdar; Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak; Xavier Joseph, CEO, Sidem/Veolia Gulf Countries; Pierre Pauliac, CEO, Degremont; and Carlos Cosin, CEO, Abengoa Water at the Press conference announcing the pilot project. — Supplied photo

The plan was on the drawing board for a year, but on Monday, during the Abu Dhabi Ascent climate change conference, Masdar and its partners for the project, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company, announced that four international renewable energy companies have been awarded the contracts for the pilot project. These are Abengoa (Spain), working with a capacity of 1,080 cubic metres of water per day for this project, Degremont (France), with 100 cubic metres, Sidem (France) with 300 cubic metres and Trevi Systems (USA) with 59 cubic metres.

They will start developing clean energy for the trial desalination plant, which is in Ghantoot, on the border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, immediately.

“Abu Dhabi has the world’s second highest carbon dioxide emissions per capita per day, and 52 per cent of the world’s desalinated water is produced in the Gulf countries,” said Mohammed El Ramahi, associate director at Masdar. “Our aim is to improve energy efficiency for desalination plants and have all of them 100 per cent powered by renewable energy in the long run.”

The type of renewable energy that will be used for the pilot desalination plant has not been disclosed yet, but Masdar explained that until the end of the year, the four teams will work on the technology to be used, trying to reach the perfect balance between technology and cost.

“We need to work on pilot technology to make sure the project will work. While on this trial period, the desalination plant will function on conventional energy to minimise costs. As we progress with technologies, we will perform simulations to make sure the costs are kept low,” explained Ramahi. “We hope to achieve 60 per cent of the current water unit cost in Abu Dhabi.”

Masadar hopes to commence production of the renewable energy desalination plant for a trial period from January 2015 to June 2016. At the end of this trial period, Masdar will choose to go forward with the technology of one of its four partners, or even all of them if all prove successful. “I believe this could be a revolutionary technology and we plan to commercialise it regionally and internationally.”

With the UAE’s increasing water scarcity as the demand increases with the growth in population and economy, desalination plants keep increasing production, but it comes at the cost of our environment.

“According to the UN, over 40 per cent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live ... (with) ... water scarcity,” said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary-general of EAD.

In the UAE, already 30 per cent of the water supply comes from desalination, while the ground water only supplies 55 per cent and the rest of 5 per cent comes from recycled water.

EAD is working on creating two underground water reservoirs — one in the Western Region and the other in Al Ain — which will be used in the future in case of crises.


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