Saudi Arabia, which lacks lakes, rivers and consistent rainfall, now relies on dozens of plants that convert water from the Gulf and Red Sea into drinking water, supplying cities and towns that would otherwise go under.
However, the kingdom’s growing desalination needs, fueled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aspirations to lead a global economic and tourism hub It risks colliding with the kingdom’s sustainability goals, which include achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.
Saudi Arabia faces high costs for desalination
Projects like Jazlah, the first plant to significantly combine desalination with solar power, aim to defuse this conflict: Authorities estimate the panels will save about 60,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year.
This is the type of innovation that needs to scale up quickly: Prince Mohammed is aiming for a population of 100 million by 2040 compared to the current 32.2 million.
“Usually the population grows and so does the quality of life of the population,” said Marco Arcelli, CEO of ACWA Power, which manages Jazlah.
The search for clean water plagued Saudi Arabia in the first decades after its founding in 1932. which sponsored geological studies that helped map its vast oil reserves.
The National Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) now reports a production capacity of 11.5 million cubic meters per day in 30 plants.
This growth comes at a price, especially for thermal power plants that run on fossil fuels.
The SWCC wants to reduce CO2 emissions by 37 million tons by 2025.
This will largely be achieved by switching from thermal power plants to power plants like Jazlah that use reverse osmosis powered by electricity.
At desalination plants across the Kingdom, Saudi workers know how important their work is to the survival of the population.
The Ras al-Khair plant produces 1.1 million cubic meters of water daily (740,000 through thermal technology, the rest through reverse osmosis) and is struggling to keep reserve tanks full due to high demand.