Desalination market takes off again

The new IDTechEx report, "Desalination: Off Grid Zero Emission 2018-2028" highlights the fact that off grid zero emission desalination will be a rapidly growing $35 billion market in 2028. The report looks closely at new desalination technologies that will boost performance and reduce cost, in particular reducing what is usually the largest cost element - electricity.

For much of the last decade, there has been oversupply of desalination plants but business is picking up globally, first with a wave of large plants in the main. Traditionally, most desalination has been carried out in areas such as the Middle East, North Africa and California in the USA and they continue to invest heavily. The largest impediments to faster adoption is cost and there are concerns about gaseous emissions from their power plants on site or at their grid supplier.  The giant plants can have water cost escalation arising from grid supply outages, monopoly pricing and under utilisation. Security of large plants is beginning to be a worry. All of this is being tackled by off grid zero emission electricity for desalination using new technology, process improvements and plants that perform many functions as analysed in the new IDTechEx report.


The report looks closely at its roadmap of exciting new desalination technologies and describes the situation in the following countries:


The huge population of China is going to get very thirsty as some of its water tables are depleted. The Chinese Government says that, by 2030, the water shortage in China’s coastal areas will be 21.4 billion cubic meters a day so it plans three million tonnes of desalinated water a day by 2020. In 2018, China has 131 seawater desalination plants still 66.6% supplying industry. The official view is that, “China will speed up the legislation on seawater utilisation, expand the use of seawater and address public concerns over drinking desalinated water”. Beijing plans a quadrupling of seawater desalination to 3.6 billion liters daily by 2020.


India is the conundrum, with its states often failing to recycle efficiently or cooperate in water conservation or diversion so parts are water rich and other parts such as Tamilnadu have dry rivers and parched land. Most of India cannot afford desalination at current prices yet, in much of India, the water table drops 0.3 meters yearly and its population is set to overtake China. India has some desalination plants and if desalination energy costs come down, for example by using abundant solar, wind and ocean power, bigger plants, standardised smaller plants designed and made locally, and solar and wind power pumping water inland, it will have much more desalination. Intakes and effluent killing sea life, and excessive water use by agriculture remain among the most important issues in India.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has invited international firms to express interest in building one of the world’s biggest water desalination plants as the capital of the United Arab Emirates boosts capacity to meet rising demand. The project is estimated to cost between $600 million and $1.2 billion and will have a capacity of 200 million gallons per day. Companies are likely to be prequalified by the second quarter of this year with a developer for the project selected by the third quarter. Abu Dhabi’s current water production capacity is around 960 million gallons per day from 10 desalination plants.


Egypt is building the world’s largest desalination plant. Another giant is proposed in response to an anticipated reduction in Nile river water flows into Egypt when Ethiopia completes construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The dam’s completion was expected in 2017 but the project is behind schedule. Egypt relies almost entirely on the Nile for water, and estimates suggest that filling up the new dam will reduce Nile water flowing into Egypt by 20%. In November 2017, talks between Egypt and Ethiopia over sharing Nile river water broke down. Under the terms of the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion m3 and Sudan gets 18.5bn m3 of Nile waters. However Ethiopia was not party to the agreement. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is expected to be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa when it is completed, with capacity to generate 6,450 MW.


In Morocco, Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch’s “Moroccan Sahara” wind-powered desalination project will provide irrigation for 5,000 hectares of agricultural land in the Dakhla Oued-Eddahab region.


Kenya will implement the Simoni Integrated Development Project (SIDEP) to regenerate a former slave trading port into an international import and export hub including a desalination plant as part of an electricity generation scheme whose cost is pegged at KES 9.3 trillion ($90 billion). The desalination plant will generate 10,000 MW and reportedly it may be capacitive – not a popular technology. The plant will support mining, mineral processing, and agriculture. SIDEP is 20 ys KES 9.3 trillion ($90 billion).

South Africa

Site preparation for the Monwabisi desalination plant has kicked off in Cape Town as the City prepares projects to bring additional water supply online to combat the unprecedented drought. The Monwabisi desalination plant is one of seven projects earmarked for development in the first phase of the City’s Additional Water Supply Programme. The City of Cape Town’s seven projects include the Monwabisi, Strandfontein, V&A Waterfront, and the Cape Town Harbour desalination plants, the Atlantis and Cape Flats Aquifer projects, and the Zandvliet water recycling project which will collectively produce an additional 196 million litres per day between February and July 2018. In addition, the City has 12 projects at an advanced planning stage.


An expected $10 billion investment 2017-2023 will add 5.7 million cubic meters per day of new production capacity. This capacity is expected to double by 2030.

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