Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

1 / 4
Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al-Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, and since Dec. 26, it has produced 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day. (Supplied)
2 / 4
Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia and since Dec. 26 produces 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, which will supply a population equivalent of 350,000. It is one of the biggest desalination plants in Saudi Arabia in terms of capacity. (Supplied)
3 / 4
Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman. (Supplied)
4 / 4
Julio de la Rosa, Acciona Middle East director for water solutions. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 27 January 2021

Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

  • Kingdom is third biggest consumer per capita in the world, after US and Canada

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Water Company (NWC) this month signed a $5.36 million two-year contract with a French utilities company to reduce the amount of water lost during the Kingdom’s water production process, known as non-revenue water in the industry.

This is a positive step forward, as a report released late last year by global consultancy firm Oliver Wyman found that while water usage is rising, supply is diminishing. The study estimated that 25 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that suffer extremely high water stress, and by 2050 that portion of the population will more than double.

“With water resources becoming increasingly scarce globally, the Middle East region is addressing the critical issues, with governments increasingly adopting new strategies for balancing their scarce water resources and growing demand for fresh water,” said Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman.

“This has led some countries in the Middle East to turn to options such as desalination and treatment, and reuse of wastewater,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is the third biggest consumer of water per capita in the world, after the US and Canada. The Kingdom has implemented a series of measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the aim of reducing consumption by 24 percent in 2021 and by up to 43 percent by the end of the decade.

Saudi chemical company SABIC in 2019 committed to reducing its energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage intensity by 25 percent by 2025, from 2010 levels.

As part of this drive to address this issue, the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has developed a unified water sector reference framework that includes a comprehensive water strategy that integrates national water sector trends, policies, legislation and practices with the main objective of addressing these key challenges and restructuring the sector.

Dr. Ibrahim Aref, director of the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces initiative at the ministry, told Arab News that most of the Arabian Peninsula’s water resources comes from rainfall. Yet, rainfall in the Kingdom, especially in the center of the Arabian Peninsula, is very weak compared to any other place in the world, thus causing water scarcity.

New technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination.

Bruno Sousa

Aref pointed out that even though the Arabian Peninsula in general experiences dry seasons that last for two, four or up to seven years, the Kingdom has been blessed with a strong economy and therefore has been able to work on many solutions that might be unusual elsewhere in the world, such as desalination.

According to Oliver Wyman’s Sousa, desalination can be achieved through two main technologies: Thermal and electric.

He told Arab News that thermal technology consists of heating water and collecting the resulting evaporated pure water. “This is a very energy-intensive process, requiring both electricity and thermal energy to heat the water. As part of the process, electricity is also generated that can be injected into the electric grid.

“Electric consists mainly in reverse osmosis, where water is forced through membranes that remove salt ... it is also an energy-intensive process, but only requires electricity to run,” he said.

“Although thermal desalination is still used, reverse osmosis is the mainstream technology, adopted mainly because of lower costs (including with energy) and a higher rate of potable water conversion from seawater,” he added.

Independent of the technology used, Sousa said that the desalination process will result in potable water and a high-concentrated saline effluent (brine), that requires disposal.

“Brine is commonly discharged back to the ocean, in case of seawater desalination, but other applications can be applied, such as use in agriculture in saline-tolerant crops, making building materials, or further treatment can be done to recover valuable products in the brine, including sodium, lithium and bromine.”

Sousa said that new technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination.

Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al-Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, and since Dec. 26, it has produced 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, which will supply a population of 350,000. It is one of the biggest desalination plants in Saudi Arabia in terms of capacity.

Acciona completed the testing program and the commissioning of the plant remotely through a team in Madrid, using digital twin technology.

According to Julio de la Rosa, Acciona Middle East director for water solutions, a digital twin is a full virtual model of a process, product or service with the capacity to replicate with accuracy what outcome will be obtained under certain conditions.

“This pairing of the virtual and physical worlds allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to head off problems before they even occur, prevent downtime, develop new opportunities and even plan for the future by using simulations,” he added.

He said that the technology allowed the commissioning of the plant to remain on schedule in spite of the travel restrictions in force because of the pandemic.

“Using advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence, the desalination plant’s start-up equipment, control system programs, water and electrical circuits were tested and put into operation with remote supervision,” la Rosa said.

He believes that artificial intelligence and robotics has a lot of potential applications within the desalination sector. “Perhaps repetitive, checkup or inspection tasks can be developed by robots designed for industrial environments,” he said.

Desalination is not the only way the Kingdom is looking to address the issue of water shortages. One of the largest programs being undertaken by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces in the southwest of the Kingdom.

The project aims to increase the efficiency of water use for agricultural purposes and to rely on renewable sources that contribute to food security, rural development and increased productivity of strategic crops.

Aref, who is in charge of the project, said rainfall was the focus of attention. “This is one of the important means in the field of agriculture and water security. We take advantage of every drop that falls from the sky … to make sure that farmers continue to farm and families can live.”

The Oliver Wyman report said that addressing this issue has direct economic benefits and can impact gross domestic product by up to 6 percent, making initiatives such as the Suez and Acciona deals ever more important.


IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

Updated 24 February 2021

IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

WASHINGTON: The crisis caused by the pandemic is leaving many economies lagging behind, increasing the plight of the poor, a problem made worse by “uneven” access to vaccines, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday.
In a message to the Group of 20 meeting on Friday Georgieva urged governments to increase vaccine distribution, ensuring Covid-19 is brought under control.
“The economic arguments for coordinated action are overwhelming,” she said in a blog post.
“Faster progress in ending the health crisis could raise global income cumulatively by $9 trillion over 2020-25. That would benefit all countries.”
She said that should include financing for vaccinations, reallocation of excess supply to countries with a shortage, and scaling up of production.
The global pandemic death toll is approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, and the shutdowns forced to control infections have devastated economies.
And while vaccine rollouts are raising hopes for a recovery this year, the IMF forecasts job losses in the G20 alone to total more than 25 million this year.
By the end of 2022, emerging market and developing nations — excluding China — will see per capital incomes 22 percent below pre-crisis levels, compared to just 13 percent lower for advanced economies, which will throw millions more into extreme poverty, Georgieva warned.
“That is why we need much stronger international collaboration to accelerate the vaccine rollout in poorer countries,” she said.
G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs led by Rome will meet by videoconference to discuss the state of the recovery and how best to attack the problem.
The Washington-based crisis lender estimated more than half of the world’s 110 emerging and developing countries will see their incomes fall further behind advanced economies through the end of next year.
And the virus-driven economic crisis also will widen income gaps within developing nations, especially as millions of children are still facing disruptions to education.
“Allowing them to become a lost generation would be an unforgiveable mistake. It would also deepen the long-term economic scars of the crisis,” she warned.


Moody’s revises up US and emerging markets forecasts, cuts Europe

Updated 24 February 2021

Moody’s revises up US and emerging markets forecasts, cuts Europe

  • Emerging market growth moved up to 7 percent from 6.1 percent, led by upward revisions to China, India and Mexico

LONDON:Credit ratings firm Moody’s revised upwards on Wednesday its economic forecasts for the year for the United States and emerging markets, but cut Europe’s following the region’s tough COVID-19 lockdowns.
Moody’s pushed up its US growth forecast to 4.7 percent, from the 4.2 percent it had expected in November.
Emerging market growth moved up to 7 percent from 6.1 percent, led by upward revisions to China, India and Mexico, while the euro zone and Britain saw their respective projections cut to 3.7 percent and 4.7 percent, from 4.7 percent and 5.2 percent previously.
“The effects on individual businesses, sectors and regions continue to be uneven, and the COVID-19 crisis will endure as a challenge to the world’s economies well beyond our two-year forecast horizon,” Moody’s said in a report on its new forecasts.

Related


SoftBank-backed Berkshire Grey to go public via $2.7bn SPAC deal

Updated 24 February 2021

SoftBank-backed Berkshire Grey to go public via $2.7bn SPAC deal

SoftBank-backed robotics firm Berkshire Grey said on Wednesday it has agreed to go public through a merger with blank-check firm Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. in a deal valuing the equity of the combined company at $2.7 billion.

Food and drinks group Agthia eyes acquisitions to become big regional player

Updated 24 February 2021

Food and drinks group Agthia eyes acquisitions to become big regional player

  • Agthia’s products include bottled water, dairy products and baked goods

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi-listed food and drinks group Agthia Group is looking into making more acquisitions to turn the company into one of the region’s top players in the food and beverage industry, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
After doing a number of deals already Agthia has a “pipeline of ideas” for additional targets to strengthen its position at home and abroad.
“Certainly we want to be a big regional player in the F&B business and more in the consumer space, so we want to move into that branded space where we can start building master brands across the region,” CEO Alan Smith said.
Agthia’s products include bottled water, dairy products and baked goods.
Smith did not rule out entering new markets, though he said a number of factors would come into play, including whether the company could enter at a large enough scale.
He said Agthia has had conversations with Israeli parties on potential cooperation, but no agreements have been finalized.
Smith also said Agthia had some sub-scale assets that the company was currently reviewing.
Abu Dhabi state-owned holding company ADQ, the corporate structure where Agthia sits, in November signed an agreement to acquire an indirect 45% stake in Louis Dreyfus Co., the first outside investment in the family-owned commodity merchant’s 169-year-old history.
“To be honest the Dreyfus transaction is fairly recent and I think we have had some initial conversations just in terms of the commodities space. But at the moment there’s no plans to have a conversation with them about (consumer packaged goods) products.”
Smith said Agithia, which reported a fall in net profit for 2020, had a strong balance sheet and was comfortable with its debt levels. It has no current plans to tap international debt markets, but may need to in the future, he said.


Britain’s Heathrow sinks to $2.8bn loss during pandemic

Updated 24 February 2021

Britain’s Heathrow sinks to $2.8bn loss during pandemic

  • Heathrow called on the government to agree a common international travel standard to allow passengers to start flying again in the summer

LONDON: Britain’s Heathrow Airport plunged to a 2 billion pound ($2.8 billion) annual loss after passenger numbers collapsed to levels last seen in the 1970s during the pandemic.
Heathrow called on the government to agree a common international travel standard to allow passengers to start flying again in the summer and to provide business tax breaks for airports to help them ride out the crisis.
The airport, west of London, is hopeful that travel markets will reopen from mid-May after a government announcement on easing lockdown on Monday.
Still Britain’s biggest airport, Heathrow last year lost its title as the busiest in Europe to Paris as its flight schedules contracted more than its rival’s.
The airport said on Wednesday that during 2020 passenger numbers shrunk 73% to 22 million people, with half of those people having traveled during January and February before COVID-19 shut down global travel.
The airport sunk to a 2 billion loss before tax on revenues which were down 62% to 1.18 billion pounds, but Heathrow said it had 3.9 billion pounds of liquidity and that could keep it going until 2023.
The airport is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp, among others.