ALJ Energy plans carbon-neutral desalination plants fueled by renewable energy

Developer targets Saudi and UAE expansion

Energy firms across the Middle East are looking for ways to make the desalination process less energy-intensive. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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Saudi developer Abdul Latif Jameel Energy (ALJ Energy) plans to use its renewable energy experience to develop carbon neutral desalination plants, as it pursues contracts in both sectors in markets including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"We're looking at working between [our] water and the power teams to develop a carbon neutral desalination approach, to be able to desalinate with renewable energy," the company's chief executive officer Roberto de Diego in an interview with The National.

The firm is “looking internally” at integrating solar and wind power solutions into desalination plants, which are typically highly energy-intensive.

“[It will] depend on the geographic conditions of where the desalination plant will be,” said Mr de Diego Arozamena.

“The solar or wind plant doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same place; [much depends on] the regulations to provide electricity to the desalination project.” he said.

ALJ Energy is among a number of local and international utility providers and energy firms hoping to benefit from the increasing privatisation of Saudi Arabia’s water and electricity distribution networks.

The country’s environment minister Abdulrahman Al Fadhli on Sunday announced plans to build nine desalination plants on the country’s Red Sea coast with a total capacity of 240,000 cubic metres of water per day, to be completed within 18 months.

Mr de Diego Arozamena said the firm is targeting both greenfield and brownfield desalination opportunities in the kingdom, including largescale projects in the industrial cities of Jubail, Yanbu and Rabigh.

ALJ Energy has also prequalified to bid for the world’s largest desalination facility in Abu Dhabi, a 200 million Imperial gallon-a-day project announced earlier this month by the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (Adwea).


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The Dh2 billion Taweela project will be developed as two desalination plants of 100 million gallons each and will be constructed alongside its namesake power station, located north of the city of Abu Dhabi.

ALJ Energy, which only opened its wind division last year, is eyeing opportunities in the Middle East’s nascent wind sector, especially within its home market.

Saudi Arabia last year tendered a 400MW project in Dumat Al Jandal, and recently announced another 800MW project to be offered for bidding later this year, as part of the kingdom’s plans to put 9.5GW of renewable power into its grid by 2023.

“We have about 1GW [of wind projects] in the pipeline,” said Mr de Diego Arozamena.

“We don’t have enough credentials yet to participate on the wind side, but we are willing to start participating in consortiums for our teams to start learning.”

The firm, through its fully-owned Spanish subsidiary Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, was awarded a contract last week for the construction of a 540GWh hybrid solar-wind project in Chile, which will power nearly a quarter of a million homes in the Latin American state.

In addition to new business, ALJ Energy’s future plans include managing and extracting value from plants it has developed worldwide.

“We’re looking at keeping the plants, the plan was to sell the plants once operational and now we’re reevaluating that,” said Mr de Diego Arozamena.

The developer announced last week it had reached financial close on a 342MW solar farm in the Mexican state of San Luis de Potosí.

“It should start construction in the next two-three weeks,” said Mr de Diego Arozamena.