How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably

A view of the Al-Khafji Desalination Plant, the world's largest. (Vision 2030 photo)
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Updated 22 June 2024
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How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably

  • Desalination of seawater allows parched Gulf nations to access plentiful water for farming and human consumption
  • To cut emissions, the Kingdom is adopting renewable energy sources to power its filtration and treatment plants

RIYADH: In regions with limited rainfall, desalination is a practical means of sourcing plentiful water for farming and human consumption. However, the process of turning seawater into freshwater is notoriously energy intensive.

Indeed, desalination is a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the water-scarce Arabian Peninsula. That is why Saudi Arabia has been investing in green energy sources to power its desalination plants.

“Using renewable energies for desalination is crucial as it contributes to reducing the operation’s carbon footprint and water production costs,” Sultan Al-Rajhi, spokesperson for the Saudi Water Authority, told Arab News.

 

 

Due to the scarcity of freshwater resources in a region with a rapidly growing population, seawater desalination is essential to keep pace with demand, he added.

“Saudi Arabia depends on desalination of seawater due to the nature of the desert climate, in which the presence of surface water and natural rivers is rare,” Al-Rajhi said.

In fact, desalination accounts for about 75 percent of the Kingdom’s water supply.

“Therefore, investment is being made in desalination of seawater to meet the demand for population and economic growth witnessed in the Gulf region as a whole.”

Each year, the Kingdom requires an average of 5.5 billion cubic meters of freshwater. The need for water is especially high during the Hajj and Umrah seasons, when well over a million pilgrims arrive from around the world.

Home to more than 37 million people, the Kingdom is the world’s third-largest consumer of water per head of population. Agriculture alone accounts for around 84 percent of total water consumption.




An alfalfa farm in Riyadh region's Wadi Ad-Dawasir governorate. (Supplied)

Desalination is a complex process that involves removing salt and other impurities from seawater. Since the process requires a significant amount of energy, adopting renewables such as solar to power these facilities has become a top priority.

“To develop climate-resilient infrastructure for sustainable desalination, Saudi Arabia should prioritize innovative and renewable technologies,” Abdulaziz Daghestani, area sales director of water utilities and country director at Grundfos, told Arab News.

Grundfos is a Danish company that is working with regional states to provide innovative pumping solutions for water supply, wastewater management, heating and cooling, and industrial processes. 

According to Daghestani, integrating advanced monitoring systems can help optimize desalination operations and enhance efficiency.

“Using real-time data and analytics, we can improve water management practices and make timely adjustments to meet the varying increasing demand for human consumption and agriculture,” he said.

The Qatrah program, which means “droplet” in Arabic, was launched by the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture in 2020, and aims to reduce excess water usage by eliminating waste, and encouraging the conservation and reuse of existing freshwater.

Its objective is to lower daily per-capita water consumption from 263 liters to 150 liters by 2030. To do this, the ministry has created a unified framework, known as the National Water Strategy, for the country.

However, despite these efforts to improve the sustainability of water systems, desalination remains a crucial means of meeting water demand, making the adoption of clean energy sources and efficient production techniques a critical priority.

DID YOUKNOW?

• In 2023, Saudi Arabia had a desalination capacity of 13.2m cubic meters per day.

• 7 million cubic meters of desalinated water have been generated by the Al-Khafji plant.

• Desalination accounts for 60 percent of the urban water supply in Saudi Arabia.

• Agriculture makes up 84 percent of the Kingdom’s water needs.

Al-Khafji Desalination Plant, located in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, is the world’s largest solar-powered water desalination project, providing the region’s water requirements through an innovative and environmentally friendly approach.

The plant can generate up to 90,000 cubic meters of freshwater per day using innovative technology created by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. 

Its new Solar Saline Water Reverse Osmosis method uses a process known as ultra-filtration during the pre-treatment phase.




A view of the Ras al-Khair water desalination plant, owned by the Saudi government's Saline Water Conversion Corporation, along the Gulf coast in eastern Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

The method involves forcing seawater through a semipermeable membrane that only allows water molecules to pass, while blocking the salt and other contaminants. The resulting purified water is then collected for distribution.

Since its launch in 2018, more than 7 million cubic meters of freshwater produced by the plant have already been utilized.

“Using reverse osmosis technology is considered to have the lowest rates of carbon emissions as a result of the increase in energy efficiency through the development of this field in recent years,” said Al-Rajhi.

“The rate of carbon emissions per cubic meter in some desalination systems has been reduced to 91 percent compared with thermal desalination systems.”

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Solar is not the only source of renewable energy that can be adopted to power the desalination process.

“This is in addition to the prospective use of hydraulic turbines to convert the kinetic energy resulting from the flow of water into electricity to generate clean energy,” said Al-Rajhi.

This shift toward renewables not only addresses the high energy costs associated with desalination but also supports Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sustainable development. 

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, has praised the Kingdom’s water conservation agenda, which is part and parcel with its environmental mission, the Saudi Green Initiative.




A farm in Wadi bin Hashbal, Saudi Arabia, was recently recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest sustainable farm in the world. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia is correct to prioritize “not over-extracting and being very wise around environmental management.”

“That is why we are quite impressed by the Saudi Green Initiative,” she told Arab News.

This transition to cleaner energy sources reflects a strategic decision to enhance the Kingdom’s energy efficiency and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, while simultaneously addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

Integrating renewable energy into desalination processes marks a significant step toward achieving a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious approach to water production.
 

 


Saudi regulations permitting additional floors in villas come into effect

Updated 16 July 2024
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Saudi regulations permitting additional floors in villas come into effect

  • Floors can now be separated into independent housing units

RIYADH: New regulations allowing residential villas to build additional basement floors have come into effect in Saudi Arabia.

The government has increased the permissible building percentage for the ground and first floors of residential villas from 70 percent to 75 percent, aimed at expanding residential supply in the Kingdom.

The regulations, which have been approved by Saudi Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail, apply to new construction permits and took effect from July 15.

The ministry had previously posted the residential building regulations on its consultation platform to gather feedback until Feb. 21.

The move forms part of the nation’s push to increase home ownership to 70 percent by 2030, up from 63.74 percent in 2023, under the Housing Program, a Vision 2030 initiative.

In addition, floors in residential villas can now be separated into independent housing units, each with its own entrance, provided that a parking space is available for each unit within the property boundaries.

The ministry also allows the removal of the front wall facing the street to utilize the set back area for parking spaces for the villa’s residential units, thereby increasing the number of parking spaces.

Each residential villa with an area of 400 sq. meters or less must provide one parking space within the property, while villas exceeding 400 sq. meters must provide two parking spaces.

The new guidelines also allow the ground floor of a multi-story residential building to be used for parking, which will not be counted as part of the official number of floors.

In addition, the amendments permit an increase in the housing percentage in upper floor annexes to 70 percent and the use of basements for housing in both residential villas and buildings, provided that natural ventilation and lighting are ensured, according to Saudi Building Code requirements.

The regulations follow international best practice to enhance quality of life. They encourage investment, improve the urban landscape, and regulate development, positively impacting the urban environment and the fabric of Saudi cities.

The amendments stipulate that the minimum width of a driver or domestic worker’s bedroom should be 2.1 sq. meters and the area not less than 6.5 sq. meters.

The placement of air-conditioning units and all types of extensions on facades facing roads and main streets is prohibited.

The new building regulations do not apply to hotels and lodges on highways outside urban areas, hotels, and hotel apartments. They also exclude senior citizens’ and disabled centers, rest houses, high-rise towers, and communal housing for individuals.

Existing buildings and those under construction can benefit from the increased building percentages, heights, and all updates mentioned in the decision, ensuring the building’s safety without harming neighboring properties.

The regulations encompass spatial planning requirements, which outline how land and space should be allocated and utilized.

They also cover technical specifications such as architectural design, structural integrity, and electrical systems, as well as mechanical installations, plumbing standards, and fire prevention and protection measures.


NASA, Saudi Space Agency sign agreement on civilian space exploration

Updated 16 July 2024
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NASA, Saudi Space Agency sign agreement on civilian space exploration

  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson signed on behalf of the US
  • CEO of the Saudi Space Agency Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi signed on behalf of the Kingdom

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and the US signed a framework agreement on Monday to increase cooperation between the two countries on civilian space exploration and research, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson signed on behalf of the US, and CEO of the Saudi Space Agency Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi signed on behalf of the Kingdom.

The agreement was titled “Framework Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Cooperation in Aeronautics and the Exploration and Use of Airspace and Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.”

It will establish a legal framework to facilitate and strengthen collaboration between the two countries.

Abdullah Al-Swaha, chairman of the Saudi Space Agency, said that the agreement represented a “turning point in the Kingdom’s journey toward building a strong and prosperous space sector,” and noted that it reflected Saudi Arabia’s commitment to progress and innovation in the field of space travel.

The agreement also acknowledged the importance of the Artemis Accords — which the US signed in October 2020 and Saudi Arabia signed in July 2022 — reflecting their commitment to the transparent, safe and responsible exploration of space, a State Department statement said.


Saudi citizen convicted of issuing fraudulent checks estimated at $3.2m

Updated 16 July 2024
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Saudi citizen convicted of issuing fraudulent checks estimated at $3.2m

  • Citizen was convicted of violating the financial fraud and breach of trust law

RIYADH: A Saudi citizen was convicted of issuing 22 fraudulent checks worth approximately SR 12 million ($3.2 million) after an investigation was initiated by the Public Prosecution’s financial fraud unit.

The Saudi Public Prosecution announced on Tuesday that the citizen was convicted of violating the financial fraud and breach of trust law, as well as the commercial papers system.

The checks had no compensation and were issued in a way that prevented their disbursement, thus defrauding the victims by misleading them. 

After arresting the accused, referring him to the competent court, and presenting evidence of his accusation, a ruling was issued against him.

He was sentenced to a five-year imprisonment and a fine of SR 300,000 and must return the amounts to their owners.

Lawyer Naif Al-Malik told Arab News: “Article Two of the law on combatting financial fraud and breach of trust stipulates that the accused shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding SR 3 million, or both penalties.”

The law includes penalties for those who unlawfully seize the property (money in this context) of others and that which is entrusted to them.

This is in addition to penalties for those who incite others to commit the crimes stipulated in this law.

The Public Prosecution has strongly urged the public to beware of all types of financial fraud.

It stressed that anyone who commits such acts will face severe criminal penalties.


KAUST announces research to enhance Kingdom’s 6G tech ambitions

Updated 16 July 2024
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KAUST announces research to enhance Kingdom’s 6G tech ambitions

  • KAUST said the collaboration involves the company’s continuing to fund two communications programs at the university
  • First program focuses on Free-Space Optical communications, while the second revolves around developing Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces RIS

RIYADH: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has announced the beginning of a new research era to develop communication technologies from 5G to 6G in collaboration with a foreign company.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that telecommunications experts expect that by 2025, there will be more than 50 billion devices connected to the internet, including devices that control city power grids and devices used for browsing social media and platforms.

KAUST said that this collaboration involves the company’s continuing to fund two communications programs at the university.

The first program focuses on Free-Space Optical communications, while the second revolves around developing Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces RIS. Both technologies have been identified by the industry sector as essential for the development of 5G and 6G communication structures.

FSO communications use lasers to transmit signals through outer space, air, to a wireless detector. The signal attenuation rate increases with higher frequency signals, and 6G has the highest frequency so far (at least 100 gigahertz). This technology is used to measure the effects of weather on signal transmission in order to build a comprehensive database of weather conditions in the Kingdom to address the causes of communication outages, the frequency of occurrences, and their duration. With this information, the company and other companies can strategically place their stations and deploy backup systems in case of failure.

Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces provide another solution to signal loss, as urban buildings often contain essential reception stations on their rooftops. RIS are made up of thousands of cells, each typically consisting of layers of metal, insulators, and semiconductors, and are expected to greatly contribute to enabling 6G technology access.

According to SPA, KAUST contributes to enhancing the Kingdom’s leadership in developing and adopting 6G communication technologies, attracting global companies to invest in infrastructure and scientists to assess their research by testing optical communication technologies in space and new reconfigurable smart surfaces, and collecting an unprecedented amount of data on weather conditions and communication performance in the Kingdom.


NEOM-KAUST partnership to target insects threatening Saudi Arabia’s 36 million palm trees

Updated 15 July 2024
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NEOM-KAUST partnership to target insects threatening Saudi Arabia’s 36 million palm trees

  • Salman Al-Wahib warns that summer is an especially dangerous time because rising temperatures and humidity levels provide conditions for the pests to thrive and contribute to the spread of bacteria and plant mold

RIYADH: Citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia are no strangers to extreme heat conditions, and over the years they have learned to adapt. But as temperatures rise, so do the bugs. And sometimes the problem cannot simply be swatted away.

Tephriditae fruit flies, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly and the olive fruit fly, as well as insects such as the red palm weevil, are among the biggest antagonizing forces against the nation’s plant and fruit supply.

According to research by Topian, NEOM’s food company, the SR9.2 billion ($2.4 billion) date industry loses an average of SR1 billion annually in date palms and associated forgone revenues because of red palm weevil infestations.

Saudi farmers preserve date crops using a technique called ‘sleeving,’ which involves covering the fruit to protect it from pests, weather conditions and other forms of contamination. (AN photo)

At the launch of the Saudi Agrifood Tech Alliance in early July in Riyadh, Andrew Yip, head of innovation and ecosystem activation at Topian, revealed the development of new technology designed to target the red palm weevils threatening Saudi Arabia’s 36 million palm trees.

In partnership with AK-Sens, a King Abdullah University of Science and Technology start-up, Topian plans to commercialize and scale optical fiber sensing technology for early-stage detection of the insect in thousands of trees in under an hour, Yip said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• In partnership with AK-Sens, a King Abdullah University of Science and Technology startup, Topian is developing a new technology designed to target the red palm weevils threatening Saudi Arabia’s 36 million palm trees.

• The project plans to commercialize and scale optical fiber sensing technology for early-stage detection of the insect in thousands of trees in under an hour.

• It has the potential to increase overall efficiency and sustainability in the agrifood sector and farms nationwide.

Following initial testing with only a handful of trees in Tabuk, the team’s latest trial at NEOM involved a thousand trees and achieved 96.3 percent accuracy with a two thirds reduction of set-up time from previous trials.

Saudi farmers preserve date crops using a technique called ‘sleeving,’ which involves covering the fruit to protect it from pests, weather conditions and other forms of contamination. (Supplied)

While the sensing technology has been so far exclusive to palm trees and red palm weevils, it has the potential to increase overall efficiency and sustainability in the agrifood sector and farms nationwide.

To better understand the health risks associated with consuming pest-infested fruits and vegetables, Arab News spoke to Dr. Basem Al-Bahrani, the emergency medicine consultant at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare and a member of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

He said: “Eating vegetables and fruits is an essential part of a healthy diet, but there are health risks associated with eating them if they are contaminated or not washed properly. These risks may include a variety of issues that may affect individuals in different ways.”

Saudi farmers preserve date crops using a technique called ‘sleeving,’ which involves covering the fruit to protect it from pests, weather conditions and other forms of contamination. (AN photo)

Food poisoning as a result of salmonella, Escherichia coli (or E. coli), or listeria bacteria is among the most common issues and its symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, and a fever, Al-Bahrani explained.

Other possible health risks are parasitic infections that at their best present the same as food poisoning and at their worst may cause weight loss and anemia. Finally, ingesting pesticide remnants could lead to hormonal imbalances, nervous system disorders, and increased risk of cancer.

NUMBER

$2.4bn

According to research by Topian, NEOM’s food company, the SR9.2 billion ($2.4 billion) date industry loses an average of SR1 billion annually in date palms and associated forgone revenues because of red palm weevil infestations.

Arab News also spoke to Salman Al-Wahib, a Saudi Advanced Business Co. Holding retiree turned farmer and owner of a plant tissue culture laboratory and nursery for outdoor and indoor plants, with 11 years of experience in the field.

He said that fruit pests are a problem that “requires great care from those responsible, farmers, and consumers.” Al-Wahib also warns that summer is an especially dangerous time because rising temperatures and humidity levels provide conditions for the pests to thrive and contribute to the spread of bacteria and plant mold.

He explained that the problem begins, expectedly, at the farming stage. While pests are most common in local fruits, it is more often than not the symptom of imported seeds and soil. If the seeds and soil are not properly treated before the initial shipment, these containers become welcoming habitats for pest procreation, ready to continue their infestation at their final destination.

Farmers and producers follow strict sanitation, inspection, and clearance procedures to avoid large-scale infestation. According to Al-Wahib, the fruit undergoes an interior and exterior inspection to check for any traces of pests. Then, fruit samples are taken to the lab and tested for pests and any pesticide remnants.

The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture monitors farming sites to ensure that no highly poisonous and environmentally harmful pesticides are used and the standard provisions of Pesticide Law — agreed upon by the agricultural department of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2005 — are followed. The law states that “it is essential to control and regulate the way they (pesticides) are formulated, used, marketed, stored and handled to stave off any potential risks.” Finally, a certification is granted deeming the selected crop pest and pesticide free and safe for human consumption.

As much as the development of organic pesticides has seen great strides in the last few decades, and farmers such as Al-Wahib agree that they are the superior option to chemical pesticides in efficacy and plant health, there is yet a long way to go to bring down that SR1 billion loss to a much more reasonable number and prevent widespread health issues.

According to Al-Wahib, in addition to thoroughly washing fruits at home, watching for signs of infestation, and using suitable storage techniques, the best way to avoid the dangers of fruit pests is to “buy from trusted local markets or farms that have an official certification deeming them free of harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”

That way our favorite summer fruits may be readily enjoyed worry-free to refresh from the sweltering summer heat.