GCC's water sector can benefit from innovationby Slavka Atanasova on Aug 10, 2016
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, renewable water availability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is under 2,000 m3 per capita per year, only a fraction of the world average of 7,240 m3 per capita per year. This is expected to drop below the World Health Organization’s water poverty line of 1,000 m3 per capita per year by 2030.
Countries in MENA are using energy resources to fill the growing demand for fresh water through desalination for industrial, agricultural and domestic use. The energy-intensive desalination process in turn adds to the power deficit, especially as demand for electricity is also growing.
Current desalination technologies require considerable energy inputs, with desalination accounting for 75.2 TWh of electricity globally every year. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that more than 99% of this energy comes from fossil fuels. In a bid to divert its dependence for power generation from crude oil to cleaner energy sources, the United Arab Emirates has made significant investments in the development of new technologies, projects and infrastructure.
“The UAE has taken significant strides in promoting sustainable development and energy use efficiency, and as a long-term partner of the nation, we will work with the local community of researchers to support the nation in achieving its clean energy goals,” said Nabil Habayeb, GE’s President & CEO for MENAT.
GE believes that the future lies in innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT), an idea that’s reflected in its latest portfolio of investments. Designed to increase the water efficiency of any plant operations, GE’s Industrial Internet technologies, combine heavy machinery with big data analytics, smart sensors and software, the idea being to enable a shift from a reactive to a more predictive and proactive approach.
Improved water management will be critical to reducing MENA’s water gap, according to GE. Echoing the general sentiment from the industry, the firm suggests that companies and governments should look to unconventional water sources like desalination and wastewater to achieve this. It also adds that water and energy use efficiency can be further streamlined through support to research on energy recovery, and by evaluating and prioritising water-efficient cooling technologies.
The company is already taking concerted action in this direction. It recently launched a $10bn research initiative called Ecomagination which focuses on innovation around the water-energy nexus. GE has also partnered with Masdar to implement the first energy-neutral wastewater treatment process employing the company’s portfolio of energy neutral products in the Middle East. ‘Energy Neutral’ is a new design concept which has the environment and low energy consumption practices in mind during all stages of planning and production. GE will also join hands with Goldman Sachs to identify new opportunities to deploy capital and develop innovative financing models for water projects around the world.
In another key initiative, the industrial technology giant and MWH Global, a leading engineering, consulting and construction firm, will work together to develop new water reuse and energy-neutral wastewater projects using innovative business models. The idea behind this project is to test and prove new distributed generation models that produce clean energy or clean water at industrial sites.
In a recent report entitled ‘Challenges, Opportunities and Ideas for Innovation at the Water-Energy Nexus’, GE calls for promoting energy efficiency and devising a comprehensive strategy for water and energy resource management. The company further argues that only through continued efforts on the part of governments, industries and end-users, can the UAE overcome today’s barriers, address tomorrow’s risks, and achieve its 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals.