Ghantoot plants will have global energy impact

Reducing the UAE's energy footprint requires improving our use of energy as well as moving to sustainable sources, and the desalination plants in Ghantoot are a good place to start.

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The four small-scale desalination plants powered by renewable energy that will start producing drinkable water in Ghantoot next year will only make a small contribution to the UAE's water demand. But, as The National reported yesterday, their output is far outstripped by their global impact, with these kind of plants being predicted to revolutionise the desalination industry.

Desalination plants are vital to the nation’s infrastructure but most of the systems in use now are both energy inefficient and costly. The new plants, which were discussed during the two-day Abu Dhabi Ascent meeting on climate change, are designed to conform to Abu Dhabi’s new water resources strategy, which seeks to find less energy-intensive technologies to desalinate water, increase the use of treated sewage effluent and ensure the efficient use of water.

Abu Dhabi has three sources of water: groundwater, which is used at a rate 15 times greater than the natural recharge rate; treated sewage effluent, of which only 60 per cent is reused; and desalinated water production, which generally relies on fossil fuel technologies as their energy source.

The introduction of nuclear power later this decade will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint, although some of those gains will be lost to rising demand for water – predicted to increase from 3.3 billion cubic metres in 2011 to about five billion cubic metres by 2030. As delegates at Abu Dhabi Ascent heard, the solution to climate change is not just changing to sustainable energy sources but using energy more efficiently.

Indeed, much of the debate over fossil fuel usage and its effect on the climate hinges on the best response. Ban Ki-moon said he was confident there would be a universal agreement to limit global warming next year. Searching for a global deal has been the most popular response in the past few years.

But there are other, more local responses, as the Ghantoot plants show. It may be that, while searching for a global agreement, money and political will would be better spent on investing and promoting leading-edge technology that is both smart and energy-efficient. It will also prove cost-effective and reduce this country’s carbon footprint, piece by piece.