Energy and water: the world's most powerful dynamic duo

Energy production relies heavily on having sufficient water and scarcity is already affecting power production

PCGFWC Majestic view of Hatta dam in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photonell / Alamy Stock Photo
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Energy depends on water. Water depends on energy. Reliable provisions in adequate quantities of these two interdependent elements are critical to ‘fuel’ economic growth. In the coming years, water and power will play a crucial role in supporting prosperity.

The World Energy Outlook 2018, which examined the energy-water nexus in the context of Sustainable Development Goals, has identified several potential synergies between clean water and sanitation and affordable and clean energy.

Energy production relies heavily on having sufficient water, and water scarcity is already affecting power production and reliability. With shrinking access to water and uncertainty around the impact of climate change on water resources, we must come together to ensure energy and water security for future generations. As countries accelerate their industrialisation agenda and efforts to cope with urbanisation, the gap between the supply and demand of reliable power and clean potable water continues to grow and is fuelled by our ever-increasing appetite for both commodities.

While governments, the private sector and society globally are being confronted with important decisions to ensure that these two life-sustaining commodities are made available with minimum impact on the environment and at the lowest possible cost, both industries are at a tipping point. They need to combat climate change, while also contributing to maintaining the health, wealth and happiness of an increasing number of people who are all looking for an improved quality of life.

The Middle East and North Africa is no different. With demand for both these commodities increasing at 5 to 8 per cent year on year and with increasing levels of water stress to be compounded by climate-related water scarcity (which alone is estimated to contribute an economic loss of between 6 and 14 per cent of GDP by 2050) matters are pressing.

Boundless human ingenuity, however, is providing new technology and new applications and solutions at an increasing pace, offering us the means to not only contain these critical challenges but to use the resulting industrial shift as an opportunity to fuel employment creation and economic development.

Similar to the rest of the world, Mena in 2019 will expect a greater emphasis on renewables. Companies are expected to find truly sustainable solutions to power and water challenges. We will witness significant infrastructure expansion activity to meet the energy targets of countries.


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In the area of potable water, advances in membrane and material science, energy recovery, and management will lead to the increasing use of the more energy efficient reverse osmosis process.

Although renewable energy is emerging as a cost-competitive option to supply electricity, the International Energy Agency maintains that even in 2040, coal and natural gas will likely still be the most important source of global power generation. In Mena however, countries that have rich hydrocarbons reserves, are implementing ambitious diversification strategies by laying out specific targets to increase renewables in the energy mix.

Our work with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) on the 300MW PV plant has reliably dispatched renewable energy when the sun is shining during daylight hours. The 950 MW Noor Energy 1 plant will generate 700 MW through CSP and 250MW PV and is considered the largest single-site concentrated solar power plant in the world. The fourth phase of the Mohamed bin Rashid Solar Park will deliver reliable dispatchable solar energy 24 hours a day. In Mena we also deliver significant amounts of renewable energy-generated electricity from Morocco to Jordan with plants under construction in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

On the desalinated water front in the UAE, we have offered the lowest water tariff from a private developer for seawater desalination by achieving one of the lowest energy consumption rates in the industry for the 200 million gallons per day reverse osmosis project, the Taweelah IWP, the world’s largest seawater reverse osmosis desalination facility, which will be built in Abu Dhabi.

The growth and transformation of the water and electricity sectors presents tremendous opportunities to increase employment; foster industrialization; and generate overall prosperity within societies - an optimistic prospect for the estimated 60 per cent of MENA’s population who are under 30 years of age. As documented in IRENA’s Jobs Report, renewable energy deployment across the world accounted for an additional 10.3 million jobs in 2017. The report goes on to estimate that decarbonisation of the global energy system can create up to 28 million jobs by 2050, highlighting the significant benefits of nurturing and investing in the sector.

As the demand for electricity and water soars over the next decade, governments’ willingness to eliminate subsidies and seek full cost recoverable tariffs will reduce the cost of electricity and water and will improve the quality of service while increasing access and coverage.

Collaboration of the public and private sectors to accept, mitigate and manage risk will bring in the required level of funding for vastly capital-intensive sectors and will marshal the needed skills.

As we bid 2018 farewell, albeit amid increasing levels of uncertainty, we confidently look forward to a brighter electricity and water sector - the two fundamental elements to survival.

Paddy Padmanathan is president and chief executive of Acwa Power