Abu Dhabi’s water sector is playing a pivotal role in energy transformation, with desalination technology through nine major desalination plants enhancing the Emirate’s security of water supply to ensure business continuity and the wellbeing of the community.
Pioneering the transformation of the energy sector in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi Department of Energy (DoE) is leading the process of developing the water sector through enacting policies and regulations to reform its operations.
Since its establishment in February 2018 to be the new regulator of the energy sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, DoE has implemented new work mechanisms and adopted performance improvement plans to improve the efficiency of the sector, with the application of modern technology in desalination plants one particular priority. The department’s initiatives to revitalise the water sector reflect its commitment to ensuring the security of supply and the continued availability of potable water for human consumption in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is one of the largest places in the world to rely on water desalination, with the percentage of desalinated water in the emirate constituting 9% of total desalinated water worldwide. The emirate’s major nine desalination plants operate with a total production capacity of 4.13 million cubic metres (910 million imperial gallons) per day, which is transported via a 3,500 km network and distributed over a pipeline network that extends to 14,200 km. The desalination plants supply water to Abu Dhabi residents, as well the emirate’s vital economic sectors. The desalination plants are a major contributor to the emirate's water sector, which has a production capacity of around 1.3 billion cubic metres of water annually (266,456 million imperial gallons).
His Excellency Mohammed bin Jarsh Al Falasi, Undersecretary of the DoE, stressed that the water sector in Abu Dhabi has a robust and reliable infrastructure that works to supply the Emirate with potable water around the clock, with the desalination plants in particular having the capacity to ensure security of supply.
"The DoE works with various entities and licenced companies in Abu Dhabi to implement legislation, regulations and policies, and to adopt development plans based on modern technology in order to develop water plants in accordance with the optimum standards to keep pace with the economic growth witnessed by the Emirate at all levels,” said His Excellency.
"Abu Dhabi Department of Energy works according to a vision and methodology to ensure regulatory compliance,” His Excellency added.
His Excellency indicated that as part of the energy sector’s commitment to ensuring the security of water supplies, the forthcoming period will witness the enhancement of water plants through their refitment with the latest technologies to increase their production capacity and provide more energy efficient forms of desalination. His Excellency highlighted that reverse osmosis is one such pioneering technology that is less energy intensive than other methods and will be expanded extensively throughout Abu Dhabi’s energy sector in the future.
His Excellency also drew attention to a new initiative from the DoE, the ‘#Our_Commitment_Our_Nations’_Power’ campaign, which it launched to confirm the sector’s commitment to generating efficient water supplies from the Emirate’s desalination plants. The campaign aims to enhance the ability of all vital sectors in Abu Dhabi to access the supplies within the framework of contributing to business continuity, especially in light of the current global situation.
The Nine Water Desalination Plants
Abu Dhabi’s desalination plants are spread throughout the emirate. Emirates CMS Power Company (ECPC) is one of the older power and water plants operational in Abu Dhabi having been licenced in 1999. Located in the Taweelah area in Abu Dhabi, it has a production capacity of 231,800 cubic metres of desalinated water daily.
Al Shuweihat S1 plant was licenced in 2001 and provides 10.7% of the desalination capacity in the emirate, equivalent to some 459,000 cubic metres of water per day. Its sister facility, the Shuweihat S2 plant, is located in the western region of the emirate. Licenced in 2009, it provides 11.2% of Abu Dhabi’s total water production, equivalent to 459,000 cubic metres per day.
Sas Al Nakl Island is home to the Umm Al Nar plant, which was licenced in 2003 and with a production capacity of 432,000 cubic metres of desalinated water per day.
Taweelah A2 desalination plant located 50 km northeast of Abu Dhabi City was licenced in 2000 and produces about 382,000 cubic metres of desalinated water per day. Taweelah B plant licenced in 2005, is the largest independent power and water plant in the UAE and generates nearly double that amount with the production of more than 736,000 cubic metres of potable water every day. It is located 80 km north of the Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi’s three other desalination plants are Fujairah F1, which was licenced in 2006 with a production capacity of 595,500 cubic metres per day, the Fujairah F2 plant, which was licenced in 2007 and has a production capacity of 600,000 cubic metres per day, and the Mirfa International Power and Water Company (MIPCO) plant, which was licenced in 2014 and operates with a capacity of 241,000 thousand cubic metres of water per day.
Abu Dhabi is working on establishing the largest water desalination plant in the world at the Al Taweelah Power and Water Complex through utilising cost-effective and energy-saving reverse osmosis technology. Construction work is expected to be completed during 2022 at an estimated total cost of AED3.1 billion. One fully operational, the plant is expected to produce about 200 million imperial gallons – equivalent to 909,200 cubic metres – of desalinated water per day.
Technology is the Basis of Development
The percentage of desalinated water in the Abu Dhabi constitutes30 % of the total water resources in the Emirate and in 2019, the quantity of desalinated water produced in Abu Dhabi reached 1.3 billion cubic metres (266,456 million imperial gallons); a figure that equates to an average of 3.32 billion cubic metres (731 million imperial gallons) per day. Eighty-four percent of desalinated water in Abu Dhabi is produced using the thermal desalination method, while 67% of the production of drinking water in Abu Dhabi is produced by multi-stage flash distillation technology (MSF) and 17% via multiple-effect distillation technology (MED). The remaining 16% is produced by seawater reverse osmosis technology.
Reverse osmosis technology is one of the most promising technologies to reduce energy used in seawater desalination. In 2013 Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company) launched a pilot plant programme in Ghantoot under the umbrella of the Masdar Renewable Energy Water Desalination Programme. The programme included developing and offering advanced water desalination solutions in a competitive environment through five participants to test the seawater membrane desalination techniques that can be operated by renewable energy sources.
The launch of the project was announced during the UAE Innovation Week in November 2015. According to Masdar, desalination of sea water with solar energy using reverse osmosis represents a promising solution, where the purification of saltwater through membranes using solar energy has demonstrated 75% more efficiency in the consumption of energy compared to the MSF desalination technology currently in use in the UAE.
Meanwhile, the majority of Abu Dhabi’s water desalination plants rely on multi-stage flash (MSF) distillation technology, which is used, for example, in the Shuweihat and Umm Al-Nar stations, where seawater is heated through several stages to convert it into steam and then cooled and condensed into drinking water.
In addition, some desalination plants rely on the multiple-effect distillation technology (MED), used in the Taweelah A plant uses a series of horizontal tubes that are adapted at low pressure and temperature levels, where the steam is passed into the tubes that are cooled from the outside using seawater, then it thickens and turns into drinking water.