Ways Saudi Arabia is looking to save water

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With Saudi Arabia ranking among the top five countries in the world in terms of water scarcity, the Kingdom is changing the way it produces, uses and distributes water to ensure sustainable growth. (Shutterstock)
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With Saudi Arabia ranking among the top five countries in the world in terms of water scarcity, the Kingdom is changing the way it produces, uses and distributes water to ensure sustainable growth. (Supplied)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Ways Saudi Arabia is looking to save water

  • Saudi officials tell forum of new ways of conservation, including building micro-grids and sewage treatment plants related to renewable energy
  • There are also plans for the Red Sea Project to set a new standard for sustainable development

ABU DHABI: With Saudi Arabia ranking among the top five countries in the world in terms of water scarcity, the Kingdom is changing the way it produces, uses and distributes water to ensure sustainable growth.

One of its key initiatives is the Red Sea Project, a luxury tourism destination with islands, nature and culture, which aims to set a new standard of sustainable development by optimizing its power, potable and sewage water, as well as solid waste. 

Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the project is set to welcome around 1 million visitors by 2030. “We have islands, coastal areas, desert, and more than 100 mountains with over 50 volcanoes located 550 km north of Jeddah,” Martin Stahl, infrastructure director at the Red Sea Development Co., said on Monday at the Water Forum, part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. 

“At 28,000 sq. km, it’s nearly the size of Belgium, with 90 unspoiled islands, 200 km of coastline, and nearly 50 hotels to be built.”

The company plans to operate the largest battery plant in the world, producing 250 megawatts of diversified power, fully renewable, including wind and solar energy, and 56,000 cubic meters of water per day. “We’re trying to optimize water demand,” Stahl said. “We’ll have two plants, a photovoltaic one south of the development, one in the north, and a pilot plant for brine treatment, a wind energy plant, as well as our own nursery in agriculture and contracted wetland.”

The objective is a net positive environmental impact, maximal climate resilience, carbon neutrality, zero discharge, zero waste to landfill and zero single-use plastic. “Our sustainability goals are very challenging,” Stahl said. 

“We launched an international university competition, supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, that challenges young scientists and engineers to come up with new solutions in 12 months to reduce the environmental impact and create value from brine, to actively promote sustainable responsibility toward the Kingdom’s natural resources. The winner will be awarded $10,000.” The project uses a micro-grid, which entails smaller grids of water while keeping with environmental goals. 

The practice is becoming more common in the region, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where hundreds of kilometers of pipes bring water to various areas. 

“Because water is such a scarce resource and so vital in the area, water utility companies tend to cover large areas,” said Emmanuel Gayan, CEO and managing director of UAE-based water-treatment company Osmoflo. 

“But today there’s a tendency to do things locally, and a new school of thought says maybe we should do things smaller because it brings more efficiency and fewer losses.”

Regional developers and industries are increasingly looking at producing and treating water locally through micro-grids of water. 

Dr. Najib Dandachi, CEO of UAE-based consultancy Al-Usul, said: “Water, traditionally and historically, is unlike electricity and oil and gas. It’s a resource locally produced and distributed. Micro-grids existed in some shape or form because of the need for greater access to water and for water quality.” With a change in technology for water production and treatment, larger networks were then built. “But the same drivers that pushed toward enlarging that water network in water services are now driving more and more parts of the world to look into the smaller grid,” Dandachi said. 

“The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) model of transferring water across hundreds of kilometers doesn’t really exist in many parts of the world. But what’s driving this zonal shrinking of the network is the technology across the value chain, from the production through the transmission, distribution and even customer services, that’s making the micro-grid more viable, and more attractive from a technical, commercial and quality-of-service point of view.” 

The clean and renewable energy revolution is expected to strongly impact the water sector and help minimize climate change. 

Leon Awerbuch, president of US-based Leading Edge Technologies, said significant efforts are being made in research and development to introduce renewable energy to the high-intensity energy desalination process.

“We’re helping to create a low-carbon future in clean water production,” he said. “A transformation in the energy and water sectors has begun, and fossil fuel domination will fade for desalination.” Saudi Arabia is working to build sewage-treatment plants related to renewable energy, with the private sector, in the cities of Taif, Jubail and Yanbu. The aim is to generate 1.45 million cubic meters of water. 

Khalid bin Zwaid Al-Quershi, CEO of the Saudi Water and Electricity Co., said: “We expect $1.7 million to be saved per year with renewables in sewage-treatment plants. Renewables offer attractive features because you avoid volatile fuel prices, and it’s more stable compared to different energy supplies. These are areas we need to focus on.”

As such, the Kingdom is embarking on ambitious water projects. Julio de la Rosa, Middle East business development director at Spain-based Acciona Agua, said: “Water is our daily concern, as well as to provide the most efficient technology solutions for our clients.” 

Acciona Agua, a leading company in water treatment and desalination technology, will help build the Al-Khobar desalination plant with the Saudi government’s Saline Water Conversion Corp. on the east coast, generating a production capacity of 210,000 cubic meters per day, making it one of the largest in the country. 

“We believe that cooperation between the public and private sectors will be valuable to public authorities,” said de la Rosa. 

Saudi Arabia is increasingly following this collaboration process. Faisal Rashid, director of demand-side management at the Supreme Council of Energy in Dubai, said: “To have a healthy private-public partnership, it has to have a win-win situation. We also have huge projects in Dubai, with the engagement of the private sector, to build infrastructure. But more needs to be done on regulation.”

As well as technological advances helping to create clean water production, water is front and center in the exploration and generation of energy. Hani Khalifa, senior operations advisor at Saudi Aramco, said GCC oil and gas companies produce energy to the world, while simultaneously consuming a substantial amount of groundwater and freshwater. 

“We also produce a lot of water. The global oil and gas industry produces 50 million cubic meters per day of a wide variety of water chemistry,” he said. “What we need is to work with technology providers and other industry partners to investigate how to turn this into a resource we can use instead of relying on a scarce resource, which puts more burden on water resources globally.”

Five to six barrels of water come with every barrel of oil. Robert Owens, business development operations manager at construction company Bechtel, said: “Historically, more than 90 percent of the water produced in that area (the oil and gas industry) is reinjected. That’s going to have to change.” He added: “We’re working with many international companies, which are expecting their water production to exceed 1 million barrels per day, which is a massive amount of water, some of which can be reused.” He said the real issue is the cost of treatment. “A series of projects to centralize water-treatment facilities for water that can be reused in other sectors is taking place,” he added. 

“There’s a critical need in upstream oil and gas, and we think it will be a model for other places in the world to do something similar, like in Argentina and Poland.”

But Khalifa said this will require a change in the mindset of industries such as oil and gas, technology and regulation. “Water contains contaminants, which are difficult to treat. But if you look at the holistic approach to the challenge, it makes an economical difference,” he added. “Technology is improving rapidly, and we need more of it to be able to look at produced water. It’s not economical yet but we’re getting there. With some encouragement from regulation, we could make that move faster than ever.”


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”