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Saudis to build world’s first large scale solar powered desalination plant

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A Saudi Arabia company is to build the world’s first large-scale solar-powered water desalination plant, using solar PV to provide much of its power needs during daylight hours.

Advanced Water Technology, the commercial arm of the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology has commission Spanish renewable energy group Abengoa to incorporate the plant into the $130 million facility.

Abengoa will build the 15MW solar PV facility, with tracking, and expects it to provide all the desalination plant’s energy needs during peak output –which in Saudi Arabia will be for much of the daylight hours.

saudiThe plant, to supply Al Khafji City in the north-east of the country, will produce 60,000 cubic metres of water a day. It is due to be commissioned in 2017.

Desalination is a costly, energy intensive process that is usually powered by fossil fuel baseload plants – although many “offset” this power with green certificates (as in Australia). Carnegie Wave Energy is incorporating a desalination process in its first wave energy plant near Perth.

The International Renewable Energy Agency says that less than 1 per cent of the world’s desalination is powered by renewables, and most of these plants – in Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Abu Dhabi and the Canary Islands – are very small scale.

Saudi Arabia currently burns 1.5 million barrels of oil per day at its desalination plants, which provides 50 per cent to 70 per cent of its drinking water. Total desalination demand in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring gulf countries and north Africa is expected to treble to 110 million cubic metres a day by 2030.

Abengoa said the incorporation of solar PV would be a “global pioneering project” and would significantly reduce the operating costs of the plant.

Saudi Arabia is looking to replace much of its domestic generation, based around highly polluting oil-fired generators and gas, with solar and nuclear. A leading Saudi company, ACWA Power, last week announced it would build a 200MW solar plant in Dubai for a cost of 5.84c/kWh, the world’s lowest price for large-scale solar.

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  • john

    This just make sense no questions asked using 1.5 million barrels of oil a day at $50 is a huge amount of money per year.
    Against $130 million one off capital cost plus ongoing R & M miles cheaper.

  • Alen T

    Good solar resource, finance, incentive and stable political setting (arguably most important factor) so my question is: why the heck did it take so long to come to this conclusion?

  • EnergyGCC

    The figure of 1.5mb/d of oil for desalination is wrong. It is more like 0.3 million barrels of oil equivalent (oil and gas) per day which can be attributed to water production in Saudi. Much of it is done in co-generation plants which also produce electricity. Still too much though of course.

    • mopatin

      You are right. People, sometimes use numbers without checking them. 1,5 M barrels is what a country like Spain burns a day, including all cars, industry, etc.

      What it would be interesting to know is the possibility of solar-thermal water desalination in Saudi Arabia where the sun hits very hot. I countries like Germany no doubt that PV is better, but in hot countries, perhaps boiling water in order to distil and perhaps cogenerate electricity could be a smart option.

  • DoRightThing

    Why burn oil when they can sell it instead and use virtually free and unlimited solar energy?
    Makes perfect sense.

  • taiyoo

    The first sentence in this article isn’t correct. The 10MW Greenough Solar Farm near Geraldton in WA has a direct purchase arrangement with the Southern Seawater desalination plant.

    • First sentence is perfectly correct. The Geraldton solar plant is a off take agreement, which i said later in article occurs in australia. The Vic desal plant, for instance, takes off takes from wind farms. The Saudi plant will be on site at the desalt plant and will power the plant directly, not via the grid.

  • Sinovoltaics Asia

    Running this plant on solar power absolutely makes sense in the long run, and it’s amazing to see a solar powered desalination plant on such large scale.

    I’m even more excited about decentralized solar water desalination technologies, as they can be applied where needed the most. Example here:

    http://sinovoltaics.com/technology/solar-water-desalination-decentralized-desalination-systems-powered-solar-energy/

    A decentralized approach has the advantage that you don’t need a government to construct a complete ‘water infrastructure’. Besides that, end users can never be taken hostage by price hikes, unreliable supply or poor quality..