How UAE’s new desalination plant provides safe drinking water to 2 million residents

It is one of the world’s largest projects using seawater reverse osmosis technology

by

Ashwani Kumar

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Tue 28 May 2024, 10:36 AM

Last updated: Tue 28 May 2024, 10:31 PM

Naqa’a, one of the world’s largest desalination projects using seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) technology, can cater to water requirements of about 2 million residents in the UAE’s northern regions, a top official said.

Built in a collaboration between Etihad Water and Electricity, Mubadala, and Saudi Arabia’s utilities developer ACWA Power, the mega project has a production capacity of 150 million gallons a day.


Located in Umm Al Quwain, the newly opened plant’s distribution network also extends to Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Dibba Al Fujairah, Ajman, and Dhaid in Sharjah, ensuring a wide-reaching reliable supply of potable water across these areas.

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“Naqa’a is one of our most strategically important projects to date,” Eng. Yousif Al Ali, CEO of Etihad Water and Electricity, told Khaleej Times.

Eng. Yousif Al Ali.
Eng. Yousif Al Ali.

‘Meeting growing demand’

A seawater desalination facility like Naqa’a, Eng. Al Ali underlined provides a consistent reliable source of freshwater, even in regions where there are limited natural sources of freshwater, like the UAE and the region. “This reduces reliance on groundwater sources and helps meet the demands of growing populations. The UAE is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, thanks to a combination of rising demand caused by the expansion of infrastructure and a growing population, in a desert nation. Desalination is, therefore, critical to ensuring our people have access to safe drinking water whenever needed. The plant directly supports the work of the Mohamed bin Zayed Water Initiative, reaffirming the UAE's commitment to translating its water security priorities into actionable initiatives,” Eng. Al Ali said and noted the plant can produce about 50 billion gallons of water per year, which is enough to service the needs of 2 million residents.

‘It’s safe drinking water’

Al Ali underlined that the plant plays a crucial role in fulfilling the leadership’s vision for water security in the UAE and the goals of the National Water Security Strategy 2036.

“Naqa’a was launched as part of the National Water Security 2036 strategy, under the Water Supply Management Programme, to establish a sustainable water resource for future generations,” he noted.

Al Ali confirmed that water from the plant can certainly be used for human consumption.

“The purpose of this project is to supply UAE residents with a reliable source of safe drinking water that has been processed responsibly. We apply stringent standard procedures to ensure the quality of the water produced from the plant and distributed to consumers is compliant with national requirements, as well as the drinking water specifications and standards issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It includes checks such as periodic sterilisation of lines and tanks, and regular and random quality testing.”

‘Eco-friendly’ technology

He said the SWRO technology is the most environmentally friendly as it uses “significantly less” energy compared to other traditional methods of thermal desalination.

“This is a crucial tool in the wider strategy to ensure water security long into the future for the whole of the region,” Eng. Al Ali said. “Innovative technologies like variable frequency drive (VFD) and pressure exchanger (PX) have further reduced the rates of electrical energy used in operating the plant by up to 60 per cent. Naqa’a allows us to produce high-quality freshwater while minimising energy consumption and environmental impact.”

Future plans, upgrades

Meanwhile, Etihad Water and Electricity has addressed the environmental impact of constructing and operating the plant with several initiatives.

“This has ranged from ensuring indigenous plants, wildlife, and the local community were protected — for example, by relocating fauna species and Ghaf trees before we broke ground — to facilitating beach cleanup projects engaging staff from the plant in voluntary days.”

Etihad Water and Electricity, Eng. Al Ali noted will keep exploring opportunities for technological upgrades and potential expansions as part of its future plans.

“This will include projects designed to support and enhance the plant’s outputs, accommodate increasing production demands, and ensure efficiency of distribution. This proactive approach ensures we are not only managing current demand efficiently but preparing for future needs and contributing to the national water security strategy.”

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