The Environmental Problems Created by Saudi Arabia’s Energy-Intensive Desalination Plants


In Saudi Arabia, electricity used for cooling and desalinating industrial and domestic needs, are fully powered by 100% fossil-fuel generated electricity. The demand for drinking water alone, annually increases with which there are about 30 energy-hungry, desalination plants working round to clock to provide the entire nation’s demand for water.

Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the 2030 Climate Change emission reductions goal remain unclear. Especially when 60% of water consumption in households come from desalination plants.

Saudi Arabia’s Dependence on Desalinated Water, a Major Driver of GHG Emissions

While desalination processes are very costly and not at all sustainable, the consumption of desalinated water increases by around 14% every year. The processing of desalting and treating sea water approximately consumes 20% of the total energy consumption of the country, which equates to large amounts of fossil fuel usage.

Although the government has made announcements of increasing its initiatives for renewable energy sources, there have been little indications of progress as most green projects in the Kingdom tend to collapse. This despite the large amounts of CO2 emissions in the use of coal for electricity production.

It has been reaching levels that could speed up the increase of global warming temperatures.
Last year, emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) in Saudi Arabia increased by 225%; 92.9% of which are CO2 emissions. Cost analysis that focus on electricity and water sectors indicate there is dire need for the country to make optimum use of fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia’s Desalination Plants are Producing Seawater Pollutants

Everyday, large amounts of seawater undergo processing in Saudi’s 30 desalination plants. As the desalting processes extract high concentrations of salt, the brine extracted becomes wastes the go back to the sea. After the salt has been extracted, the desalted water undergoes treatment processes that produce thermal wastes. Such wastes are likewise dumped into the sea.

Brine and thermal wastes flowing into the sea become pollutants that tend to increase the salinity of the seawater. Higher salinity levels increase the temperature of seawater.

The wastes produced by desalination plants are also causing turbidity, a characteristic that gives seawater an opaque and cloudy appearance due to the increasing presence of suspended pollutants.

As related studies revealed that the seawater environments in the Gulf Region contain micro-elements and toxic elements generated as by-products of salt wastes. Saudi citizens prefer not to drink desalinated water because it has an unpleasant taste and appearance, people cannot help but perceive desalinated water as unfit for human consumption.

Is Saudi Arabia’s Desalinated Water Potable?

While the supply of water has greatly improved, the country still has to convince citizens that desalinated is 100% potable. Desalination plants assert that any impurities affecting the quality of their water supply are usually contaminants that exist in water tanks, particularly in older buildings where tanks have been poorly maintained for years.

One of the leading tank cleaning companies in Jeddah known as wghsaada, has been in the tank cleaning business long enough to know that there is truth to what the desalination plants are saying. Water tanks have to be cleaned thoroughly and regularly as certain forms of microorganisms in the form of biofilms usually thrive in water storage vessels.