Water Week

EWN Publishing

Arabian Gulf and Red Sea desalination model using subsidised natural gas distorts choices, encourages inefficient technologies, says World Bank

Posted by waterweek on 25 September 2007

More than 50 per cent of the world’s total desalination capacity was located around the Arabian Gulf and a large proportion of the remainder took water from the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean, wrote the WWF’s Phil Dickie.

Growing demand for both water and energy: “Many of the plants combine seawater distillation with power generation but although plants of this type are still being constructed there is now a pronounced move towards large Reverse Osmosis plants,” Dickie wrote. “The Saudi Government-owned Saline Water Conversion Company (SWCC) is the world’s largest desalination enterprise with 30 plants producing more than 3 million m3/day and 5000 mW of power – 50 percent of the kingdom’s water needs and 20 percent of its power needs. Over the next 20 years, according to SWCC, the kingdom will need an additional 6 million m3/day of water and 30,000 more mW of power generating capacity.

Subsidies encourage inefficiencies: “SWCC itself is to be privatised,” Dickie wrote, “which may be one indication that providing for Saudi Arabia’s water needs is expected to be challenging. The investment community certainly thinks so, with one influential analysis concluding that ‘Growth in the region would be stronger but for concerns about Saudi Arabia’s ability to finance its required capacity within the timeframe.’ Other organisations with reservations about the general Arabian Gulf and Red Sea desalination model include the World Bank, which has noted that subsidised natural gas underpins much of the combined thermal distillation and power generation, ‘Energy subsidies distort the choice of desalination processes in favour of energy-inefficient technologies,’ a bank spokesman said.

Reference: Phil Dickie, WWF for a living planet, ‘Making Water – Desalination option or distraction for a thirsty world?’, June 2007.

Erisk Net, 23/9/2007

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