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GCC to increase desalination capacity by 40%

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region will increase its seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40% by 2020 to meet the growing demand for drinking water, according to Meed Projects.28 Oct 2015

The GCC current capacity of around 4,000 million imperial gallons a day (MIGD)  will increase to more than 5,500 MIGD, MEED Projects said in a joint press release with the International Water Summit and clean energy company Masdar.

Desalination is particularly important for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, where demand for water has increased rapidly alongside economic and population growth, and Saudi Arabia where groundwater is running law, MEED Projects said.

Current demand is around 3,300 MIGD and this is expected to grow to 5,200 MIGD by 2020, the report said.

Current levels are more precarious than the figures suggest, and ageing plants do not always operate at full capacity, MEED Projects said. Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait have struggled to meet demand, especially in summer, it said.

Abu Dhabi imposed water tariffs on UAE nationals for the first time this year, and increased prices for expatriate users, following a similar move by Dubai in 2010, MEED Projects said. Dubai saw demand growth slow from 10% to 4%, it said.

Ed James, director of content at MEED Projects said: "Our data shows that over the last 10 years, the region has invested US$76 billion in standalone water projects. If we add the power component investment of these desalination facilities, that figure exceeds well over $100b."

Much of the investment will go to developing less energy-intensive methods of desalination, such as reverse osmosis (RO) membrane technology. This uses a chemical rather than thermal solution to desalinate seawater.

"Not only does the technology save on power, but it means countries can also lower their potential carbon emissions," said James.

Doha-based engineering procurement expert Peter Blackmore of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "Qatar has seen long delays to the Facility D project at Messaieed, a combined power and desalination project. We have also seen the cancellation of an independent water project at Ras Laffan as the binning of the next door petrochemical project killed off demand for the non-potable production, rendering the desalination scheme uneconomic," he said.

"Qatar will have to look hard at demand management too, in the coming years, as the population continues to grow. The new Lusail City is now planned to have a population of 450,000 not 250,000," he said.

In 2013, Masdar launched a pilot program in the UAE to test and develop advanced energy-efficient seawater desalination technologies, including reverse and forward osmosis, to be powered by renewable energy, the statement said

Four international water technology companies have been selected to construct small-scale desalination plants along the Abu Dhabi-Dubai border, MEED Projects said.