Water resources and supply challenges have continuously become common because of climate change, rapid population growths, rising standards of living, industrialization, and expansion of the agricultural sector. Such challenges related to water have resulted in major impacts on emerging countries, specifically the least developed ones. Water resources and supplies have however remained scarce. As a result, water desalination has become extremely important as a vital source of clean water for some countries particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Water desalination is the primary source of water for countries close to seas or located on islands. The process of water desalination, however, is generally regarded as expensive and perhaps a luxury approach to safe water challenges. Specifically, high-energy consumption, pollution, and costs of desalination have raised concerns. Moreover, suitable technologies for mass production are not readily available for countries that require them most. The purpose of this research paper is to explore the connection between water and energy sector in general and in the UAE in particular.
The connection between water and energy sector
It is increasingly becoming difficult to gain access to clean water for basic consumption. The problem is severe in emerging countries and poorly developed ones. In this regard, desalination has been identified as a possible way to gain access to clean water. However, current plants for water desalination and techniques require extreme energy for production, which makes such processes extremely expensive.
Therefore, enhancing energy efficiency across all levels has been a major source of concern for countries, professionals and academics among other stakeholders (Abd, Saif and Jasmin 7). The desalination process supplies water for several uses, including domestic, agricultural and domestic usages.
Desalination, however, has some drawbacks in terms of energy consumption, production of unwanted carbon gases and negative impacts on the environment through red tide and oil spills. Nevertheless, many countries, particularly along coastal lines consider desalination because of freshwater scarcity while other countries may experience widespread water shortage and then consider it (Vegt, Iliev and Tannock 9). The situation is expected to become severe in the coming years as demands for water increase.
For such countries to have fresh water, they require energy to run their desalination plants. Unfortunately, countries with primitive technologies and poor are most likely to be affected by water scarcity and therefore could be the major beneficiaries of desalination. This situation also presents new opportunities for such countries because they may have inadequate, poor infrastructures or none at all. Thus, they can invest in new technologies for water production, water infrastructures, and renewable energy to enhance efficiency across all sectors.
A critical point of focus about desalination has emerged because of the renewed push to combat global warming, reduce energy consumption and invest in energy-efficient systems. That is, desalination should be energy efficient but with optimal clean water production for consumption. Some authors have focused on promoting desalination technologies, renewable energy technologies and integrating all these technologies for clean water production (Vegt et al. 9).
Countries, therefore, strive to ensure adequate water supply and reliable clean energy integrated through technologies to run desalination plants.
The UAE context
The UAE is rich in natural energy resources. Consequently, the UAE has cheaper energy resources relative to other countries. In this regard, Abd et al. (7) note that both stationary and non-stationary ways of using these energies are inefficient, leading to massive wastage. It also has the highest energy consumption because of widespread wastage alongside the emission of carbon gases into the atmosphere.
The electricity generation in the UAE is different from generation in most countries because about 98 percent is generated from natural gas. This is a source of major concern for the country based on long-term sustainability and energy security (Abd et al. 7). The UAE energy sector can be viewed according to three elements in the energy value chain. The first segment focuses on energy consumption during energy extraction. In this case, the extraction of oil and gas resources requires energy. The second segment highlights the power generation. This process mainly happens through gas-powered power plants. It is imperative to note that much power is generated onsite by heavy industries. Finally, on the grid electricity demand in the UAE is also a significant factor for consideration.
However, there is a need to shift from coal-driven plants to clean energy. According to (Nuaimi 28), nearly 96 percent of water and electricity production used in Abu Dhabi is generated by a gas turbine. Researchers have developed models to demonstrate the connection between energy and water production to account for challenges experienced during summer and winter, how they impact electricity production on water production and account for any potential shortage in water production (Nuaimi 29). On the same note, models for water supply have also been developed to ensure that the UAE is water sufficient for the next few decades. These include the construction of new desalination water plants that run on shale gas or nuclear energy and capturing water from the ballast that emanates from crude oil or natural gas vessels. Such models aim to determine the profitability of investments in water and electricity production for a given period. They take into account water and electricity consumption observed behaviors noted in summer and winter alongside fuel consumption and emitted carbon gases. The model is dual. The first section explains electricity production, including current production rates, new production from gas and nuclear plants and capacity to be withdrawn. The Time series regression model is used to evaluate electricity consumption for a given period in the UAE. Moreover, desalination energy consumption must also be accounted for in aggregate energy use in addition to natural gas usages and emission of carbon gases. The second section focuses on water production from various desalination industries and demands for water (Nuaimi 28).
Desalination is extremely critical for UAE water security. However, the country may not have the best desalination technologies, clean energy or renewable energy sources for water production. One must note that the current systems have high-energy consumption rates and high rates of greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming. In this regard, the cost of desalination has been the major source of concern for the UAE. There are also significant environmental concerns, such as high-energy consumption and its associated carbon gas emission because of the power supply to these plants. In direct cases, a desalination plant may get power from diesel or other fossil fuels. On the other hand, for indirect power consumption, the plant may get power from the grid that uses a high percentage of fossil fuel to generate energy.
Desalination processes are also associated with the uncontrolled release of brine, which can spread to sea, contaminate water aquifers and destroy the ecosystem because of extremely high temperatures and high salt concentration. In attempts to generate energy from nuclear power plants to support desalination, nuclear contaminants may cause widespread damages. Besides, desalination is also associated with other challenges such as chemical spills, gas emissions, and noise pollution. At the same time, locations of desalination plants could also influence water and energy supplies. For instance, engineers must integrate off-grid energy sources or develop mobile energy systems for such desalination plants. Isolated desalination plants in islands may require transportation of energy. This could be expensive for operators. Energy is required to supply water as demands increase in urban areas because of population growth, which leaves limited space for the construction of nearby plants. Also, remotely located desalination water plants lead to increased costs associated with energy, capital, operations, water transfer and costs for obtaining water at sources. Desalination plants require extensive infrastructures, which are energy extensive because of the need to pump water to various destinations. Further, existing facilities may lead to massive loss of water because of leakages and seepage. Such wastage makes desalination extremely expensive.
In the Middle East, many desalination plants can only be found in high-income areas. It is noted that desalination is an expensive venture and therefore cannot serve the masses. Capital required for construction and operational expenditure to support plants during their life cycle remain major sources of concern. In this regard, technologies to enhance efficiency can result in low costs of construction and operations of desalination plants. Besides, such approaches can allow plant operators to accommodate extra capacities without much strain on installed facilities. That is, innovative strategies to desalination plant construction and operations make it simple to deploy and run such facilities.
The UAE needs to save energy at every stage of production and usage. Researchers have noted that much energy is wasted in plants, and one such energy extensive plant is the desalination plant (Vegt et al. 9). The most important factor to consider is energy efficiency at all stages of generation and use. Power plant performance should be optimal to reduce energy losses. The UAE must focus on interventions that can improve efficiency in the production and distribution of power.
The quest may lead to the desalination of renewable energy integration. This is critical in remote desalination plants in which local resources are utilized to reduce costs and minimize the release of carbon gases. Generally, desalination plants’ integration with renewable energy sources could be direct or indirect. Renewable energy may be generated directly from heat or pressure to run the desalination plant. Conversely, indirect integration of renewable energy from other sources may be used to run the plant.
Water is already a scarce resource and other countries experience widespread shortages with severe repercussions. Further, it is expected that such conditions may worsen because of climate change, urbanization, population growth and increased demand for industrial and domestic water among others. Desalination is imperative in such countries with water shortages. However, current energy practices to meet desalination energy requirements lead to massive energy wastage, costly processes and pollution of the environment, particularly through the release of carbon gases. The connection between water and energy in the UAE is demonstrated through desalination. In this regard, energy product and distribution should be efficient while advanced technologies for desalination plants and energy consumption are required. A focus on renewable energy sources is important for the UAE.
Abd, Youssef Al, Omar Saif and Majid Al Jasmin. Driving Productivity & Profitability of Energy Efficiency in the UAE. Masdar: Masdar Institute, n.d. Print.
Nuaimi, Marwan Al. Desalination And Water Trade Strategies For Abu Dhabi Under Uncertainty: An Economic Analysis – a thesis. Abu Dhabi: Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, 2013. Print.
Vegt, Helena van der, Ilian Iliev, Quentin Tannock and Sarah Helem. Patent Landscape Report on Desalination Technologies and the Use of Alternative Energies for Desalination. Geneva, Switzerland: World Intellectual Property Organization, 2011. Print.