Arab region aims to increase reliance on renewable energy

The Arab region, which boasts of 60 per cent of global water desalination capacity, will soon announce targets to minimise the adverse effects of desalination on the environment in relation to greenhouse gas emissions and the discharge of brine and other contaminants.

With 5 per cent of the world’s population and only 1 per cent of global freshwater water resources, the Arab region is heavily affected by water scarcity and heavily dependent on non-conventional water resources such as desalination and treated wastewater.

The collective water shortage of 17 Arab countries is currently estimated at over 30 billion cubic metres and this deficit is expected to triple by 2030 and increase to over 150 billion cubic metres by 2050, the Arab Water Academy in Abu Dhabi said yesterday.

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 at its plants.

Many of the problems related to desalination could be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. This will reduce the cost of energy consumption, which accounts for 30-50 per cent of the overall water desalination costs.

A GWh of energy produced by oil and gas generates 700 and 460 tonnes of carbon dioxide respectively. In comparison, the same amount of energy produced by solar energy [concentrated solar power] releases just 17 tonnes of carbon dioxide, Dr Asma Al Kasmi, director of the Arab Water Academy, told Gulf News.

The Arab Water Academy (AWA) will announce its targets to increase the share of renewable energy sources in desalination and waste water treatment and to reduce carbon emissions during the sixth World Water Forum which will be held in Marseille, France, in March.

Practical solutions

The Arab Water Academy in Abu Dhabi is charged with the coordination of the Arab region’s target of "developing, 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".

Dr Asma said the region’s tremendous potential for renewable energy — especially solar and wind — is finding its way into national energy strategies.

She stressed that by taking this route of utilising renewable energy sources, 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.

Freshwater shortage is a limitation on economic development, food production, human health and environmental protection.

Most countries in the region augment their water supply by over-exploiting their fossil resources.

Arab region statistics

Five per cent of the world’s population in Arab region.
One per cent of global freshwater water resources in the Arab region.
Sixty per cent of global desalination capacity in Arab region
Ten Arab countries among top 20 countries for forecasted desalination capacity.
Seventy per cent waste water reuse rate in certain GCC nations.