x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gulf states widen thinking on alternative energy strategy

Soaring demand for electricity and a growing shortage of natural gas have led governments to rethink their energy strategy and incorporate solar power in particular into their plans.

Arabian Gulf states are looking at using alternative energy for one of the biggest consumers of energy in the region - desalination.

Soaring demand for electricity and a growing shortage of natural gas have led governments to rethink their energy strategy and incorporate solar power in particular into their plans.

In Saudi Arabia, plans are being drawn up for the world's largest solar desalination plant, and Abu Dhabi's Masdar is also preparing to utilise renewable energy to this end.

In a region where potable water is scarce, desalination - the desalting of seawater - is used to generate sufficient supply. Per-capita water consumption in the Gulf is the highest in the world, and according to conservative estimates desalination accounts for up to a fifth of generated electricity. This is adding to the strain on gas resources, which are unable to match growing demand.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust), one of the Saudi government organisations looking at the deployment of alternative energies, has taken the lead role in a consortium that could in the future produce 50 million gallons of potable water per day from solar desalination.

The consortium is composed of five entities in Jeddah with significant water needs. A feasibility study for the huge plant has already been completed, and preliminary plans for a pilot project drawn up.

The economics look promising, meaning that the plant stands a good chance of being completed, said Imad Feghali, the regional technology manager at CH2M Hill, the engineering firm hired by Kaust.

"When we look at the cost of this facility, and we compare this to how much they are paying right now from the supplier over there, we realise that there is a margin there, and they can definitely save by doing the project," said Mr Feghali, who spoke on the sidelines of the Solar Desalination Forum held in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia could also draw on geothermal energy for its desalination needs, says Daniel Zywietz, the managing director at Ambata Capital Middle East.

At a cost of no more than US$3 per million British thermal units of energy, geothermal desalination is cost-competitive with facilities that rely on more expensive gas being produced or bought now that demand exceeds cheaper supply, said Mr Zywietz.

"The primary challenge is that very few people know about geothermal," he added.

fneuhof@thenational.ae