Renewable energy in bridging the water gap in the Arab region

AWA to highlight the potential for non-conventional Water Resources and Renewable Energy in Bridging the Water Gap in the Arab Region During the 6th World Water Forum.

The Arab Water Academy (AWA) will highlight the potential for non-conventional water resources and renewable energy in bridging the water gap in the Arab region during the 6thWorld Water Forum which will be held in Marseille in March 2012.

Convened every three years, this world’s largest meeting around water is organized in 2012 under the theme "Time for Solutions". During the preparation process of the Forum, priorities for water actions were established, translated into measurable targets for which solutions are collected from throughout the globe. The Forum will provide the platform to share best practice and make commitments for the practical implementation of the solutions.

The Arab region will be represented in the 6thWorld Water Forum as one unit through the Arab Countries Cross-Continental Process led by the Arab Ministerial Council for Water within the League of Arab States. The Ministerial Council formed an Arab Preparatory Committee made of several Arab countries and organizations in order to prepare the Arab contribution in the Forum. The Arab region’s priorities and targets were established in line with the Strategy for Water Security in the Arab Region adopted in June 2011 by the Ministerial Council for Water.

The Strategy had identified five priority projects for the integrated water resources management in the Arab region that were used to define the Arab region’s five targets during the 6th World Water Forum. The Arab Water Academy in Abu Dhabi is charged with the coordination of the Arab region’s Target 3: "Develop, in the medium term (by 2020), alternative and practical solutions for using non-conventional water resources with focus on the use of renewable energy in water desalination and water treatment for meeting the increasing water demand in the Arab Region"

According to the Director of the Academy, Dr. Asma El Kasmi, this specific target provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the Arab region’s contribution in advancing water solutions at regional and international levels. The Arab region is leading the world in water desalination and is currently boasting more than 60% of the global desalination capacity. This trend is likely to continue in the future as 10 Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya, Jordan and Yemen) rank amongst the top 20 countries worldwide for the forecasted desalination capacity during the period 2008-2016. Large growths of desalination capacity are also expected beyond 2016 for more Arab countries such as Egypt and Iraq. Similarly, some countries in the region retain high rates of treated wastewater reuse. Certain GCC Countries are estimated to maintain a 70% wastewater reuse rate or higher (i.e. Oman, Qatar and UAE), with strong commitment to increase this percentage to 100% in some places such as Abu Dhabi.

"Throughout the region, the use of non-conventional water resources including desalinated and treated wastewater is increasingly considered among the strategic options to close the widening gap between the demand and availability of water" she added.

Dr. El Kasmi noted that "On the other hand, the region’s tremendous potential for renewable energy (especially solar energy and wind power) is finding its way into national energy strategies. Morocco is expanding its wind farm and solar power generation capacity and plans to obtain 42% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Even oil rich countries are diversifying their energy sources by increasing the use of renewable energy. Saudi Arabia is planning to use solar energy to generate 10% of its electricity needs by 2020 -a total of 5 gigawatts and the United Arab Emirates launched a solar park that will be worth 1,000 megawatts by 2030.The huge potential for renewable energy in the Arab region could also be harnessed to generate export revenue from green electricity, industrial diversification and new skills creation".

She stressed that "By making the strategic choice to expand the use of renewable energy and non-conventional water resources, Arab countries are opening new possibilities for responding to the region’s severe water scarcity while taking into account cost-effectiveness, environment sustainability and energy security."

With 5% of the world’s population and only 1% of global freshwater water resources, the Arab region is heavily affected by water scarcity. Most countries in the region are already in water deficit and the gap between the demand and availability of water is widening due to rapidly growing populations, industrialization of the region’s economy and the anticipated negative effects of climate change. The collective water shortage of 17 Arab countries is currently estimated to over 30 billion m3 and this deficit is expected to triple by 2030 and increase to over 150 billion m3 by 2050.

Freshwater shortage is a limitation to economic development, food production, human health and environment protection. Most countries in the region augment their water supply by over-exploiting their fossil aquifers, running a high risk of widespread exhaustion and saline intrusion of aquifers. Over-extraction of groundwater is undermining national assets at rates equivalent to 1 to 2% of GDP every year in some Arab countries. The first line of action to reduce the region’s water deficit is to increase water use efficiency by improving demand management and reducing losses. Nevertheless, continued demographic and economic growth will also require expanding water supply through alternative water production methods such as water desalination and reuse of treated wastewater. So far, the costliness, energy-intensity and environmental implications of such processes have limited their expansion across the entire region.

The widespread dissemination of the use of non-conventional water resources is highly dependent on developing local capacity for making the technology affordable and environmentally friendly. Especially for reducing the cost of energy consumption (which accounts for 30-50% of the overall costs of water desalination) and decreasing the adverse effects on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and discharge of brine and other contaminants. The current heavy reliance on fossil fuels for water desalination is not sustainable (Saudi Arabia alone uses 1.5 million barrels of oil per day in its plants). Many of the problems related to desalination could be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Pilot projects for using renewable energy in water desalination already exist in some Arab countries. Examples include the solar powered desalination plants for brackish groundwater in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and the solar energy and wind turbines to desalinate brackish groundwater in Oman. Until recently, most of these initiatives were small scale projects. Broader scale projects will be operational as early as 2013 such as the solar-powered desalination plant in Al-Khafji in Saudi Arabia with a capacity of 30,000 m3/day, and the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) plan to combine Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP) with seawater desalination technologies to meet agricultural water needs.

The session facilitated by the Arab Water Academy during the 6th World Water Forum will provide the opportunity to highlight these advances in the Arab region and promote experience sharing between Arab countries and with other regions in the world facing similar challenges. The debate will be geared towards efficiency improvement and innovation in technology, policy, capacity development and awareness for managing the water-energy nexus in the Arab region. Representatives from governments, research institutions, private sector, development agencies and civil society will discuss critical questions such as how to up-scale the use of renewable energy for alternative water production at commercial scale, how to develop and apply regulations for the reuse of treated wastewater in different sectors, and how to achieve public acceptability of new resources.

Launched in Abu Dhabi in July 2008, the Arab Water Academy (AWA) is a regional center of excellence for executive education and capacity building in water. The focus of the Academy is on strengthening the knowledge and skills of the Middle East and North Africa’s decision-makers to address and manage effectively the region’s water challenges. Initiated by the Arab Water Council (AWC), the Arab Water Academy is hosted by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) in partnership with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).

The Academy provides the information, capacity and support needed to catalyze short-term change and high-impact results in the water sector. The programs of the Academy are designed to promote innovative perspectives on making the most of water scarcity in the Arab region. They focus on demand management, institutional reform, financial and environmental sustainability, water governance and water diplomacy.

In just three years, the AWA has positioned itself as a main actor in the Arab water sector. It has been groundbreaking in regional capacity development and has provided high-quality executive education programs to over 250 senior professionals and decision-makers from 21 Arab countries. The Academy has gained significant political support in the Arab region and established a strong partnership with the Arab Ministerial Council for Water within the League of Arab States.

The AWA learning programs during the period 2009-2011 have covered the most relevant topics for making tangible improvements in water management in the Arab world such as:

Water diplomacy: sharing water, sharing benefits

Water governance and leadership development

Water demand management,

Non-conventional water resources management,

Designing and implementing successful water and sanitation utility reform,

Public private partnerships in water, sanitation and irrigation

Climate change and sustainable land-water management.

Participants in AWA Executive Education Programs during the period 2009-2011

The main financial support for the AWA is provided by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank. The AWA has also raised funds for the development of its programs and services from regional and international donors.