Additional $10m required for Santa Barbara desalination plant

The already controversial upgrade to Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Facility sparked further frustration today.  The municipal desalination plant that was built in the late 1980s during a severe drought, but wasn’t completed before the drought finished, is going to require more funds before completion.

The capital costs to reactivate the facility were originally estimated at $61 million financed over 20 years with a low 1.6% interest rate loan, which equates to $3.5 million per year in debt service. Annual operating costs are estimated to be about $4.1 million at full production and about $1.4 million in non-operation or standby mode.

The facility will produce nearly 3 million gallons per day. This is equivalent to 3,125 acre-feet of water annually or about 30% of the City’s demand.

These costs are to meet the plants reactivation objects that include:

  • Using 40% less energy than the original design by using high-efficiency pumps, motors and improved filter technology.
  • Mitigating the risk of marine life entrapement with copper-nickel alloy screens with 1mm openings.

As water agencies rush to pour millions of public money into such projects critics are vocal, noting that the cost of desalinated water is about double that of imported water because of energy intensive processes.

KEYT reporter John Palminteri tweeted earlier today that an additional $10m was going to be needed to complete the project.

It is widely accepted that California needs to make additions to its under-threat water supply portfolio. However, it is disappointing as these stories can tar the reputation of desalination technology as a whole. Dated plants that leave a significant carbon footprints and require huge upstart costs are not representative of the emerging technologies.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week kicks off this week

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2017 (#ADSW2017 on twitter) starts this week on 12th January and runs to 21st January.

Five small scale desalination plants have been running 18 month pilots as part of Masdar’s Renewable Energy Seawater Desalination Programme which launched in 2013. Progress of these is set to be revealed at ADSW 2017.

The key benchmarks that these programs will be judged on are about bringing value to the United Arab Emirates in the form of:

  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Diversification of energy supply
  • Cost reduction of desalinated water
  • Reduced environmental impact

Mascara, Abengoa, Suez, Sidem and Trevi Systems are the five partners developing new desalination technology for Masdar. The desalination plants will be powered by renewable energy, such as Geothermal, Solar thermal collectors, Photovoltaic systems, Concentrated solar power, Wind turbines, or a combination of these sources.

Technical data from the pilot projects will be presented at ADSW 2017 and one or more of these are expected to be operating at a full scale, commercial level by 2020.

Does Saudi Arabia’s desalination capacity pose a severe brine threat?

It was recently reported that Saudi Arabia is still leading the race for installed desalination capacity – now at 18% globally.

This comes after achieving 15% growth year-over-year, according to the Saudi Gazette. This means that 1.3 billion cubic metres through 3.7 million megawatt/hours of electricity in 2015

In November 2016 – Ras al-Khair’s desalination plant made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest dual-function plant. The £5.4b project has an annual production capacity of 1.025 million cubic meters of desalinated water and 2,400MW of electricity.

Efforts are also underway in Al Khafji to buiild a solar powered RO desalination plant capable of outputting 60,000 m3/day project. Abengoa launched a similar project in Accra, Ghana but there was controversy as locals complained that its output was too salty for drinking.

Whilst it’s impressive to see oil giant Saudi Arabia investing into renewable energy and reliance on desalination for it’s infrastructure plans are yet to be released of how the by product will be disposed of.

Brine is a serious threat to the environment if not handled correctly. It can seriously harm the marine ecosystem or foul aquifers which can trigger devastating chain reactions. Given that the salinity of the water on Saudi Arabia’s east and west coasts have an above average salinity, it’s critical to the entire process  that a ‘smart’ approach to brine disposal is in place.

I’ve reached out to NASA Aquarius Mission team to see if there has been any notable increases in salinity around the coastal plants.

‘The Pipe’

A finalist on the LAGI2016 (Land Art Generator Initiative) is this elegantly designed ‘The Pipe’. Despite begging questioning whether it puts art before functionality, it’s incredibly well-suited to the proposed site of Santa Monica, California. In its defence, this project in particular demonstrates ways that public services can be integrated without visual pollution, in a healthy, aesthetically-pleasing way.

Theoretically, this shiny tube could generate 10,000 MWh of electricity annually through solar panels that would power an electromagnetic filtration system. This would be capable of pumping out 1.5 billion gallons of clean drinking water for the city across the year.

Iranian Designers, Khalili Engineers, added, “What results are two products: pure drinkable water that is directed into the city’s primary water piping grid, and clear water with twelve percent salinity. The drinking water is piped to shore, while the salt water supplies the thermal baths before it is redirected back to the ocean through a smart release system, mitigating most of the usual problems associated with returning brine water to the sea.”



Where Is the Water Industry’s Silicon Valley?

As somebody who is relatively new to the water industry with a background in information technology, I’m surprised why limited progression has taken place, compared to other industries, in such a key space.

Silicon Valley is recognized as the innovation “epicenter.” Their products consume my generation’s interests in shaping self-validating social media profiles or awing at the convenience of ordering dinner from a smartphone app. With that, it asks the question: Why aren’t we seeing a technological revolution at this level in other places?

The movement in nanotech and membranes is truly amazing, but there’s more to be done elsewhere. It seems that it takes DIY, self-funded innovators to develop problem-solving tech independently, but they are impeded by the lack of support, become demotivated and move on. Where’s the financial support in the water industry? It rears its head in the face of crises, but how much could we, the world, save through investing more in R&D with foresight?

On a macroscale, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that if we halved the number of people with limited access to clean water it would lead to an average global reduction of diarrhea episodes of 10%. Of the 1.1 billion that currently make up this statistic, their target equates to 555 million people. The value of these savings, spread over the entire population, would amount to US $12 billion saved a year. Dividing the US $12 billion cost for 555 million people is $21 per person—can’t our great, human minds address this problem with a fraction of that budget? And dare we put a price on the opportunity that protecting one human life holds?

On average, the 25 poorest countries in the world spend 20% of their GDP on water. Using their budget of 30 cents per day per person as a baseline, scaling up global population growths, there’s up to four billion people by the year 2030. The market is worth $1.2 billion a day and there’s huge commercial interest in sustainably addressing this problem.

The global population is set to hit nearly 10 billion by the year 2050, with the biggest growth change forecast in Africa (+108.9%). Nigeria’s population will reach 413 million, overtaking America as the world’s third most-populous country. Congo and Ethiopia will increase to more than 195m and 188m, respectively, which is more than twice their current numbers. There will be future unrest in these nations if basic physiological resources are not made more available.

68.7% of the world’s freshwater is locked in the polar ice caps and, unfortunately, we need them. Therefore the next solution is a salt one. Seawater covers the majority of our planet but it isn’t drinkable. There is no shortage of seawater as ice caps in the north melt and sea levels rise. On average this has been +2.6 mm and +2.9 mm per year, ± 0.4 mm, since 1993.

As the world’s population increases and ice caps melt, can we really afford to wait until it’s too late? Am I sounding too cliché or do I still have your attention?

The evidence indicates that there should be an enormous fund towards increasing the percent of the world’s fresh water that is accessible for direct human use.

I’d like to share some objectives for building a commercial enterprise with positive social and ecological side effects:

  • Provide a highly necessary scarce resource to a billion across the globe.
  • Support development opportunities in Africa, the Middle East and Australia.
  • Significantly reduce the necessity of global humanitarian aid for water from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
  • Protect the host countries’ GDP spend in fossil fuel powered desalination and healthcare burdened for treating water-related disease.

Again, the price of the future of human life cannot be quantified. Where we predict inclement population booms in nations outside of our own, we need to work together in acting with our resources and investing to create something sustainable and substantial.

Since embarking on my career change, I’ve had conversations globally, from MIT engineering students to recipients of innovation prizes in Africa, leading water charity NGOs to UN community contributors. I’ve assembled a small team and we have confidence that we’re closing in on something, but it’s still going to take a greater push to get there.

Next year I will run a Seawater Desalination pilot at a coastal farm in sub-Saharan Africa as proof we can increase the availability of affordable, potable fresh water at source and inland, both in terms of energy consumption and byproduct disposal.

This might not be the all-encompassing answer, but it’s my commitment and endeavor to try. And I believe that this industry as a whole can demonstrate innovation and increase funding to support efforts to attract the brilliant young minds that we’re losing to solve “first-world problems” in Information Technology. Let them not forget that producing a single smartphone requires 240 gallons of water across its entire production. A leading smartphone brand just sold 13 million units of their new product in the first week. Everybody and everything needs water.

I’m looking for people, at all levels and ages, who want to smash the Malthusian quandary. Who’s with me?