How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably

Special How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably
A view of the Al-Khafji Desalination Plant, the world's largest. (Vision 2030 photo)
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Updated 22 June 2024
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How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably

How solar-powered desalination allows Saudi Arabia to produce potable water sustainably
  • Desalination of seawater allows parched Gulf nations to access plentiful water for farming and human consumption
  • To cut emissions, the Kingdom is adopting renewable energy sources to power its filtration and treatment plants

RIYADH: In regions with limited rainfall, desalination is a practical means of sourcing plentiful water for farming and human consumption. However, the process of turning seawater into freshwater is notoriously energy intensive.

Indeed, desalination is a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the water-scarce Arabian Peninsula. That is why Saudi Arabia has been investing in green energy sources to power its desalination plants.

“Using renewable energies for desalination is crucial as it contributes to reducing the operation’s carbon footprint and water production costs,” Sultan Al-Rajhi, spokesperson for the Saudi Water Authority, told Arab News.

 

 

Due to the scarcity of freshwater resources in a region with a rapidly growing population, seawater desalination is essential to keep pace with demand, he added.

“Saudi Arabia depends on desalination of seawater due to the nature of the desert climate, in which the presence of surface water and natural rivers is rare,” Al-Rajhi said.

In fact, desalination accounts for about 75 percent of the Kingdom’s water supply.

“Therefore, investment is being made in desalination of seawater to meet the demand for population and economic growth witnessed in the Gulf region as a whole.”

Each year, the Kingdom requires an average of 5.5 billion cubic meters of freshwater. The need for water is especially high during the Hajj and Umrah seasons, when well over a million pilgrims arrive from around the world.

Home to more than 37 million people, the Kingdom is the world’s third-largest consumer of water per head of population. Agriculture alone accounts for around 84 percent of total water consumption.




An alfalfa farm in Riyadh region's Wadi Ad-Dawasir governorate. (Supplied)

Desalination is a complex process that involves removing salt and other impurities from seawater. Since the process requires a significant amount of energy, adopting renewables such as solar to power these facilities has become a top priority.

“To develop climate-resilient infrastructure for sustainable desalination, Saudi Arabia should prioritize innovative and renewable technologies,” Abdulaziz Daghestani, area sales director of water utilities and country director at Grundfos, told Arab News.

Grundfos is a Danish company that is working with regional states to provide innovative pumping solutions for water supply, wastewater management, heating and cooling, and industrial processes. 

According to Daghestani, integrating advanced monitoring systems can help optimize desalination operations and enhance efficiency.

“Using real-time data and analytics, we can improve water management practices and make timely adjustments to meet the varying increasing demand for human consumption and agriculture,” he said.

The Qatrah program, which means “droplet” in Arabic, was launched by the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture in 2020, and aims to reduce excess water usage by eliminating waste, and encouraging the conservation and reuse of existing freshwater.

Its objective is to lower daily per-capita water consumption from 263 liters to 150 liters by 2030. To do this, the ministry has created a unified framework, known as the National Water Strategy, for the country.

However, despite these efforts to improve the sustainability of water systems, desalination remains a crucial means of meeting water demand, making the adoption of clean energy sources and efficient production techniques a critical priority.

DID YOUKNOW?

• In 2023, Saudi Arabia had a desalination capacity of 13.2m cubic meters per day.

• 7 million cubic meters of desalinated water have been generated by the Al-Khafji plant.

• Desalination accounts for 60 percent of the urban water supply in Saudi Arabia.

• Agriculture makes up 84 percent of the Kingdom’s water needs.

Al-Khafji Desalination Plant, located in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, is the world’s largest solar-powered water desalination project, providing the region’s water requirements through an innovative and environmentally friendly approach.

The plant can generate up to 90,000 cubic meters of freshwater per day using innovative technology created by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. 

Its new Solar Saline Water Reverse Osmosis method uses a process known as ultra-filtration during the pre-treatment phase.




A view of the Ras al-Khair water desalination plant, owned by the Saudi government's Saline Water Conversion Corporation, along the Gulf coast in eastern Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

The method involves forcing seawater through a semipermeable membrane that only allows water molecules to pass, while blocking the salt and other contaminants. The resulting purified water is then collected for distribution.

Since its launch in 2018, more than 7 million cubic meters of freshwater produced by the plant have already been utilized.

“Using reverse osmosis technology is considered to have the lowest rates of carbon emissions as a result of the increase in energy efficiency through the development of this field in recent years,” said Al-Rajhi.

“The rate of carbon emissions per cubic meter in some desalination systems has been reduced to 91 percent compared with thermal desalination systems.”

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Solar is not the only source of renewable energy that can be adopted to power the desalination process.

“This is in addition to the prospective use of hydraulic turbines to convert the kinetic energy resulting from the flow of water into electricity to generate clean energy,” said Al-Rajhi.

This shift toward renewables not only addresses the high energy costs associated with desalination but also supports Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sustainable development. 

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, has praised the Kingdom’s water conservation agenda, which is part and parcel with its environmental mission, the Saudi Green Initiative.




A farm in Wadi bin Hashbal, Saudi Arabia, was recently recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest sustainable farm in the world. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia is correct to prioritize “not over-extracting and being very wise around environmental management.”

“That is why we are quite impressed by the Saudi Green Initiative,” she told Arab News.

This transition to cleaner energy sources reflects a strategic decision to enhance the Kingdom’s energy efficiency and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, while simultaneously addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

Integrating renewable energy into desalination processes marks a significant step toward achieving a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious approach to water production.
 

 


Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership

Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership
Updated 6 sec ago
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Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership

Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership
  • Ongoing construction boom to improve housing affordability, expert says
  • Harmon described Ejar platform as unresponsive and biased toward landlords, with tenants feeling that their interests are not being adequately protected

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s capital has experienced a significant surge in apartment rental prices in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for many residents to afford suitable accommodation.

This sharp rise in rental costs has led to a growing trend among Riyadh’s population to prioritize home ownership over renting, as they seek to gain more stability and control over their living situations.

According to recent real estate market data, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in central Riyadh has skyrocketed to over SR5,000 ($1,300) per month (numbers differ daily). For larger units, the costs can be even more staggering, with three-bedroom apartments often commanding monthly rents in excess of SR10,000, a CBRE.sa report states.

Exorbitant rent prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options. (AN photos by Hajar AlQusayer)

These exorbitant prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options.

“It’s become almost impossible for my family to continue renting,” said Shahad Al-Ghamdi, a young administrative manager living in Riyadh. “The rent for even a modest apartment eats up a large portion of my monthly salary, leaving little room for other expenses. I’ve been seriously considering taking out a mortgage and buying a home instead, as it would ultimately be more cost-effective in the long run.”

FASTFACTS

• According to recent real estate market data, the average rent for a one- bedroom apartment in central Riyadh has skyrocketed to over SR5,000 ($1,300) per month (numbers differ daily).

• The Saudi government has introduced mortgage financing programs and other incentives to make it easier for citizens to purchase their own properties.

• Economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz cautioned that factors, such as interest rates and inflation, will play a crucial role in determining overall market dynamics.

Al-Ghamdi’s sentiment is echoed by countless other Riyadh residents, who are increasingly viewing home ownership as a more viable and sustainable option compared to the ever-rising rental market.

To address this pressing issue, the Saudi government has introduced mortgage financing programs and other incentives to make it easier for citizens to purchase their own properties. As a result, the demand for home loans has surged, with many banks reporting a significant increase in mortgage applications over the past few years.

However, as highlighted by the experiences of residents like Romana Harmon, the government’s efforts to regulate the rental market through initiatives like Ejar platform have been perceived as largely ineffective.

Harmon described Ejar platform as unresponsive and biased toward landlords, with tenants feeling that their interests are not being adequately protected.

Romana said: “I have had experience with them (Ejar), and they do not respond to people who alert them to overly expensive apartments. They should protect both the landlord and tenant, but they don’t. They seem to be on the side of the landlord and owner.”

Harmon’s concerns raises the question of how can the system more effectively serve the people it is designed to help. Harmon’s own rental experience has been a rollercoaster of broken promises and escalating costs, with the landlord apparently increasing her rent by an astonishing 58 percent despite the standard maximum of 5-10 percent.

Harmon said that she was able to contact Ejar but they told her that there are no laws that stop the landlord from increasing a new lease.

Harmon, who is an expat working temporarily in Saudi Arabia, is not considering buying a house and has to deal with rent that keeps getting higher.  

Economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz acknowledged the ongoing construction boom in Saudi Arabia which has a “value of construction outputs reaching $141.5 billion, a 4.3 percent increase compared to the previous year.”

Hafiz believes that this expansion in housing and office buildings may help narrow the gap between supply and demand, potentially leading to more balanced rental prices and improved housing affordability.

However, Hafiz also cautioned that other factors, such as interest rates and inflation, will play a crucial role in determining overall market dynamics. He remains optimistic about the future, but emphasized the need for continued efforts to address the root causes of the rental crisis and ensure that housing remains accessible and affordable for all.  

“But we are still in good condition compared to countries who are members of G20 and I believe solutions are taking place … it is matter of time to increase the supply of houses,” Hafiz added.

To truly address the rental crisis in Riyadh, the Saudi government must take a more comprehensive and responsive approach. This may involve strengthening rent control regulations, empowering regulatory bodies like Ejar to effectively protect tenants’ interests, and exploring innovative solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing units.

By addressing the systemic issues underlying the rental market, the government can help alleviate the financial burden on Riyadh’s residents and foster a more inclusive and prosperous future for the city.

 


Thriving tree planted by King Faisal a symbol of Saudi-Pakistani relations

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
Updated 15 sec ago
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Thriving tree planted by King Faisal a symbol of Saudi-Pakistani relations

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
  • Dr. Salma Hawsawi: “The Sapium sebiferum tree holds an exceptional place and importance, connecting Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It represents a model of international bonding for nearly 58 years, since the era of King Faisal”

MAKKAH: In the heart of Islamabad’s International Friendship Garden, a tree stands as a living testament to the enduring bond between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)

The tree’s presence in Shakarparian, as the garden is known locally, has inspired a wave of goodwill. Across Pakistan, streets, neighborhoods, mosques, and universities now bear the names of Saudi monarchs, reflecting the deep-rooted affection between the two countries.

The garden, home to trees planted by various world leaders, bursts into bloom each spring. Yet, for many Pakistanis, King Faisal’s tree, as it is locally known, holds special significance. It stands as a living reminder of the shared history and mutual respect between the two nations.

HIGHLIGHT

The presence of the tree planted by King Faisal in Shakarparian, as the garden is known locally, has inspired a wave of goodwill.

King Faisal was among the first guests to plant a tree in this garden, which blossoms with flowers in spring and has become a destination for tourists from around the world.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)

Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “The Sapium sebiferum tree holds an exceptional place and importance, connecting Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It represents a model of international bonding for nearly 58 years, since the era of King Faisal.”

The “warmth and enthusiasm” displayed during the state visits are telling, she noted. “They reveal the deep-rooted connection and mutual respect that have grown between our nations over the decades.

“These trees, with their vibrant green hue, have long symbolized hope and prosperity,” Hawsawi explained. “Their robust root systems serve as the foundation for branches, leaves, and fruits. King Faisal laid down the primary foundation.”

The tree is known for its quick growth which “perfectly encapsulates the dynamic expansion of our bilateral ties,” she added, elaborating on how this natural metaphor extends to various facets of the countries’ partnership.

“We have witnessed this accelerated growth in our strategic partnerships, knowledge exchange programs, cultural dialogues, economic investments, and efforts toward political stability and peace. Trees embody growth, prosperity, stability, and continuity. These qualities are deeply ingrained in the multifaceted relationship between our two nations,” Hawsawi concluded.

 


King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event

King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event
Updated 1 min 20 sec ago
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King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event

King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event
  • The students toured an exhibition showcasing research priorities, development and innovation in the Kingdom, focusing on energy and industry-related technologies

RIYADH: The King Salman Science Oasis hosted 333 talented individuals from 90 countries who participated in the 56th International Chemistry Olympiad 2024.

This event was organized by the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity in partnership with the Ministry of Education and King Saud University.

The program is in Riyadh from July 22 to July 30, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

During their visit, participants were immersed in a rich learning experience, exploring the history of chemistry in the Kingdom and its crucial role in the industry’s development.

They also delved into the petrochemical industry’s contributions to innovation and entrepreneurship in the Kingdom, gaining valuable insights and knowledge.

The students toured an exhibition showcasing research priorities, development and innovation in the Kingdom, focusing on energy and industry-related technologies.

They also interacted with 13 researchers from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, who provided insights into areas such as refining, petrochemicals, hydrogen, nuclear sciences, advanced materials, electronics, semiconductors, advanced manufacturing, future energy and mining.

At the end of their visit, students participated in making Taif perfume as part of their experience at the King Salman Science Oasis.

 


GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia

GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Updated 50 sec ago
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GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia

GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia
  • The parties looked at ties between the GCC and Uzbekistan, and relations between the GCC and Central Asia

RIYADH: Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi on Tuesday in Riyadh received the recently appointed Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the Kingdom Nodirjon Turgunov.

The parties looked at ties between the GCC and Uzbekistan, and relations between the GCC and Central Asia, and ways to enhance them, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

They also exchanged views on the latest regional and international developments and political issues of mutual concern.

Al-Budaiwi wished the ambassador success in his new duties.

 

 


Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone

Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone
Updated 23 July 2024
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Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone

Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone
  • Four cubs born as part of national strategy

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife has announced a major breakthrough in its cheetah conservation efforts, with the birth of four cubs and the completion of a comprehensive national strategy.

The announcement came during a session held by the center on Tuesday to introduce the cheetah, and outline efforts for its reintroduction. This initiative is part of the National Cheetah Conservation Strategy within the National Cheetah Reintroduction Program, launched last year under the auspices of the minister of environment, water and agriculture, Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, who is also chairman of the center.

The center’s CEO, Dr. Mohammed Qurban, said: “The official launch of the National Cheetah Conservation Strategy and the announcement of the birth of four cheetah cubs signifies an important achievement in our conservation efforts. This strategy reflects our unwavering commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for wild cheetahs in their natural habitats in the Kingdom.”

Qurban added that the birth of the cubs was especially important given the cheetah’s absence from the Arabian Peninsula for more than four decades.

“Our recent discovery of ancient cheetah mummies in northern Saudi Arabia underscores the region’s historical role as a prime cheetah habitat,” he said.

Qurban said that this discovery would fuel the determination to reestablish cheetah populations, “guided by an integrated strategy designed in accordance with best international practices.”

He said: “The current remaining distribution of cheetahs worldwide is limited to 9 percent of their historical range, with only 7,100 in existence among 34 different groups in the wild.”

The center also unveiled its multi-phase National Cheetah Conservation Strategy during the briefing session. The plan outlines a series of critical steps aimed at reestablishing a viable cheetah population in Saudi Arabia.

The strategy begins with the creation of specialized breeding facilities and rewilding centers, identifying protected areas that offer suitable habitats for the reintroduced cheetahs, preparing for reintroduction, community partnership in the protection program, and finally, reintroduction and establishment of a self-sustaining breeding population.

The announcement reflects Saudi Arabia’s leading role and success in efforts to enhance environmental balance through the conservation of endangered species, their captive breeding, and reintroduction. The center said that only 15 percent of cheetahs born in the wild could breed in captivity, and of this group, only 20 percent continued to reproduce.

The center’s research team, in collaboration with global experts, has recently disclosed pivotal findings from its comprehensive cheetah research, offering new perspectives on the species’ presence in the Arabian Peninsula. The study, which examined the chronological age of specimens and identified cheetah subspecies, provided a fresh look at the cultural and historical significance of these big cats in the region. The findings are set to recalibrate current conservation strategies. By correcting long-held misconceptions and providing region-specific data, the study allows for more targeted and effective conservation efforts.

The team has successfully pinpointed the timeline of the cheetah’s extinction in the region and extracted crucial genetic information from historical specimens. The scientists have identified the specific subspecies of the Arabian cheetah, comparing its genetic sequence with those of cheetahs currently housed in the center’s facilities and populations worldwide. The findings support the center’s ongoing efforts to breed and reintroduce cheetahs to their native habitats in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom is ramping up its commitment to cheetah conservation, employing a multi-faceted approach that combines scientific research, innovative strategies and collaborative partnerships.