Milestones in Saudi Arabia’s exciting transition

Just as the chimneys have been a landmark on Jeddah’s Red Sea coast since the 1970s, so the ending of their smoke emissions is another landmark, as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 transforms the country’s potential. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 September 2019

Milestones in Saudi Arabia’s exciting transition

  • September 5 marked the end of operation of a desalination plant in Jeddah after four decades
  • Saudi Arabia's transition to a global leader in the use of sustainable energy is under way

ABU DHABI: For more than four decades, the smoke rising from two chimneys of a water-desalination plant operated by SAWACO was a familiar sight along Jeddah’s Red Sea coast. Sept. 5 marked the end of emissions from the chimneys as the desalination plant ceased operations in line with the Kingdom’s ambition plan to wean itself off its dependence on polluting, fossil fuel-based technologies and to diversify its economy.
The chimneys, which were originally scheduled to stop operating in February 2020, harked back to an era that is being ushered out by Saudi Arabia’s transformation into a global leader in the use and development of sustainable energy.
That moment when the smoke stopped was a reminder of the Kingdom’s determination to adopt a sustainable path for both its water production and the wider energy sector in the interest of future generations.
“Water has always been an essential part of life in Saudi Arabia,” Colin Ward, a researcher at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), told Arab News.
“The desalination plants allowed the Kingdom to expand its water supplies beyond the capacity of its natural sources to support a growing population and economy.
“The removal of the last smokestacks at the Jeddah plant represents an exciting transition for Saudi Arabia.” Chimneys of power or desalination plants release smoke and gases formed during the burning of oil, coal or natural gas.
From the 1970s they became a familiar feature of coastal cities and towns in the cities of the Middle East when desalination plants began to piggyback off thermal power plants by a process known as co-generation.
In many Middle East countries, oil was burned to heat water into steam, which turned a turbine that drove an electrical generator. Simultaneously, the desalination process utilized the extra heat of the turbines to convert seawater into drinking water.
A downside of the technology is that the exhaust from co-generation plants contains gases harmful to the local environment, in addition to carbon dioxide, the rising levels of which are believed to be causing global warming.
“Thermal distillation was a crude solution that relied heavily on cheap and abundant energy, but it was inefficient,” said Ward. “Today, the Kingdom is on the cutting edge of desalination research and development — and is putting these advances into practice.”
Saudi Arabia’s position in the top five countries of the world in terms of water scarcity makes improvements in the way it produces, uses and distributes water imperative. Accordingly, it has drawn up a raft of plans to achieve greater water security, sustainability and efficiency.
The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), the National Water Company (NWC) and the Saudi Water Partnership Company have teamed up to launch six major projects with an estimated total cost of 3.1 billion riyals ($800 million) to build some of the world’s most technologically advanced and energy-efficient desalination plants to serve pilgrims in Makkah and other holy sites. Separately, nine seawater desalination plants are in preparation in Jeddah with a total capacity of 240,000 cubic meters of water per day, according to Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Environment, Water and Agriculture.
The Jeddah project will incorporate the latest technology to boost production efficiency and cut operating and capital costs, and “will have a significant impact on improving the quality and scope of water services,” Al-Fadley said in a statement earlier this year.


3.1bn - Total cost in riyals of six new Saudi water projects.

5m - Cubic meters per day of desalinated water produced by Saline Water Conversion Corporation.

400 - Capacity in MW of newly launched Dumat Al-Jandal wind project in Al-Jouf.

30 - Renewable energy projects planned over next nine years.

For its part, the SWCC, which operates desalination plants and power stations in Saudi Arabia, said it has achieved a capacity of five million cubic meters per day of desalinated water, making it the world’s largest producer. KAPSARC’s Ward says efforts to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s water sector into a more eco-friendly, and sustainable sector will prove transformational.
“Improvements to technology, changes in primary energy pricing, and growing concerns over pollution have led to the development of cheaper and more efficient methods using membranes such as reverse osmosis,” he told Arab News.
Reverse osmosis, which involves taking seawater and passing it through a fine membrane to produce clean drinking water, is an increasingly popular and more environment-friendly method of desalination. The technology is being used in the Shuaiba Expansion II scheme, which began commercial operations in Makkah in May and has a capacity of 250,000 cubic metres of water daily.
Some experts say Saudi Arabia should rely, above all, on its experience for making decisions on the selection of appropriate desalination technologies for future applications. “Adoption of stand-alone or conventional membrane and thermally driven processes has future implications for the economy and levels of environmental and marine pollution,” Muhammad Wakil Shahzad, a research scientist at the Water Desalination Research Center (WDRC) at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), told Arab News.
“All conventional desalination processes are operating at only 10 to 13 percent of the thermodynamic limit. Sustainable desalination can only be achieved by ‘out of box’ solutions such as hybrid processes and highly efficient membranes applications.”
Ward points out that “research into renewable desalination is under way, with the largest solar-based experiment located in Saudi Arabia.” He says the transformation of the water sector points to a readiness on the part of Saudi companies to embrace a “greener” future.
Saudi Arabia is one of the 195 signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. It is leading by example, having launched a number of initiatives in renewable energy and energy efficiency of its own.

In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy, the Saudi government is planning to develop 30 solar and wind projects over the next nine years as part of a $50 billion program to boost power generation and cut oil consumption. It is planning to increase the contribution of renewables in its total energy mix to 27.3 GW by 2024, from wind as well as solar energy.
On July 8, the Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources announced the bidding process and the timeline for 12 renewable energy projects, with a total capacity of more than 3 gigawatts (GW). The tenders were part of round two of the Kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Program (NREP). Following through on the announcement, on Aug. 2 REPDO invited bids for six solar photovoltaic projects with a total capacity of 1.47 GW.
For its part, the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, recently announced it wants to locate an electric vehicle industry in the Kingdom, following an agreement to invest more than $1 billion in a US-based electric-vehicle manufacturer. A number of projects are also in the works under the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP).
Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, has already outlined its ambition to be part of the solution to tackle climate change. Among its decarbonisation policies are reduction of emissions, creation of natural “sinks” that absorb carbon emissions, and progress towards the goal of “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” - an initiative introduced by the World Bank to eliminate routine flaring of gas - no later than 2030.
Against this backdrop, the September 5 shutdown of the chimneys of SAWACO’s desalination plant in Jeddah signified in a small way Saudi Arabia’s ongoing transition to an era of sustainable development and economic diversification.

The shadowy forces attacking civilian targets in Saudi Arabia

Updated 12 min 16 sec ago

The shadowy forces attacking civilian targets in Saudi Arabia

  • Saturday's coordinated attack on Saudi Aramco oil installations marks a sharp escalation
  • Targets have included Makkah, airports, pipelines, desalination plants and oil facilities

ABU DHABI: When drones targeted the facilities of Saudi Aramco on Saturday, they signaled not only a new phase of a terror campaign against Saudi Arabia but also the determination of malign regional actors to disrupt global oil supplies, cripple energy-reliant economies and stir Middle East tensions.
The two-pronged attack on oil-production facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in the Eastern Province was the biggest on oil infrastructure since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Responsibility for scores of attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia involving rockets, drones and ballistic missiles has been claimed by Iran-backed Houthi militias since 2015. Saudi forces are part of a military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.
The targets have included the holy city of Makkah, airports, royal residences, oil pipelines, desalination plants and oilfields.
A number of tankers in busy oil lanes have also been subjected to mysterious sabotage attacks involving mines, while commercial vessels have been harassed or seized by Iranian security forces.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Experts say world leaders need to close ranks to put an end to the undeclared war of aggression and bring the faceless perpetrators to heel.
Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, says the attacks on vital installations represent a “really dangerous development” that Saudi Arabia and the wider world cannot afford to “sit back and let happen.”
“This is provocation, plain and simple,” he told Arab News. “This is a very serious escalation as it was an attack designed to cause major harm. Whoever did this knew it was provocation — and that a reaction is also guaranteed.
“Saudi Arabia will not be able to sit back and just let attacks like this happen. Attacks of this kind threaten a country’s economy, its sovereignty, its integrity — however you look at it.”
The Houthis said they carried out Saturday’s attacks with the help of 10 drones. But Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, suggested the projectiles may have been launched from another country. Along with Yemen, Iran has proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — a policy that has long been blamed for causing instability in the region.
“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
The Arab coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government said it was investigating who was behind the attacks.
According to Jim Hanson, president of the Security Studies Group, “the attacks were likely to have been launched from Iraq and done by Hashd Al-Shaabi militias in cooperation with their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) handlers.”
He said: “The distance from Houthi territory in Yemen is likely too far for the strikes to have come from there. The US should coordinate with Saudi Arabia to ensure the most effective response. Talk alone is not enough; this calls for action.”
However, Iraq’s prime minister has denied reports that Iraqi territory “was used for drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, Adel Abdul-Mahdi said: “Iraq is constitutionally committed to preventing any use of its soil to attack its neighbors. “The Iraqi government will be extremely firm with whoever tries to violate the constitution.”

Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, said Saturday's incidents caused an interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil - or about half of the Kingdom's oil capacity, equivalent to five percent of the daily global oil supply. He confirmed there were no injuries to staff at the locations targeted.
According to Saudi Aramco, the Abqaiq facility is the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world which processes more than seven million bpd of crude. The plant plays a vital role in removing sulphur impurities and reducing vapor pressure of the crude in order to make it safe for being transported by tankers.
The damage also led to the knockout of the production of two billion cubic feet of associated gas daily, used to produce 700,000 barrels of natural gas liquids.
A Refinitiv media advisory said "with the global demand forecasts being revised downwards on the back of trade wars and economic downturn, the impact on prices is expected to be limited unless further clarity on the extent of damage indicates a significant impact on Saudi Arabia’s production and exports."
Commenting on the chances of a recurrence of such attacks, Mekelberg said: “If they do happen again, then the implication for the Gulf is huge. It could lead to great escalation and even war in the Gulf although I do not think this is something anyone wants.
“They will lead to not only Saudi Arabia but other countries, such as the US, to react.”
Moving forward, Mekelberg said, “We need to go back and look at all the issues in the region — and try and solve them diplomatically. We have to try and prevent further violence — before things get out of hand.”