New Thirst for Renewable Energy Desalination in the MENA Region

This week’s Singapore International Water Week has a strong focus on renewable energy desalination (REDSAL) as the world’s water experts meet and debate in the city state.

According to the International Desalination Association, global desalination capacity now at over 100 million cubic metres per day.China and India will no doubt attract attention as key markets going forward but for the present the Red Sea/Gulf dominates the salination world with the 400,000 cubic metres per day capacity Shoaibi 4 plant being the largest coming on line of late. Shuqaiq 3, opened for tender in January, will add 380,000 cmpd. Shoaibi is a reverse osmosis membrane plant, a move away from KSA’s tendancy to multi-stage flash (MSF) and multi-effect distillation (MED) thermal technology and this may mark a staging post to large scale solar membrane desalination.

In 2012 the World Bank pointed to the REDSAL opportunity for MENA and in the same year the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) issued a joint paper with ETSAP on REDSAL technology and its commercial feasibility




Since then solar power costs have plummeted. Abu Dhabi’s MASDAR recently completed its pilot programme on REDSAL and concluded that solar/reverse osmosis technology offered up a technically efficient and commercially feasible way forwards for REDSAL in the MENA region. 

In January, Saudi Arabia announced that it would build nine new desalination plants on the Red Sea, increasing its fleet beyond the current 27 plants.

The Gulf States are now poised to embrace the decarbonization of desalination and REDSAL may well be the “next big thing” on the MENA horizon.

This is a welcome response to the World Bank’s recent warning on unsustainable water resource management in the region.