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.
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.