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The arid climate of Dubai, where rainfall is sparse, limits conventional water resources and recent studies show that temperatures are increasing. In August 2005, Dubai temperatures reached 47.3șC, the hottest day in the city for six years. Demand for water in Dubai during the peak summer season rose 10% to touch 184 million gallons per day in 2004. With temperatures soaring to more than 40șC for at least six months of the year, the threat of no water or electricity in households or in the workplace is a matter of serious concern, and is one of the top priorities for governments throughout the region.
It is estimated that more than 7,500 desalination plants are in operation worldwide, of which 60% are located in the Middle East, with the world's largest plant, which produces 128 mega gallons per day of desalted water in Saudi Arabia.
'Arab states will need to invest a $100 billion on desalination over the next decade if demand for water keeps growing at the current pace, especially in the Gulf region,' said Sarah Woodbridge, Group Director Exhibitions, IIR Middle East, organisers of the annual Middle East Electricity exhibition which includes, for the first time in 2007, a dedicated area of the event for the water industry, created due to the intense demand for international expertise and technology.
'Industry data shows that regional demand for desalinated water is growing at an annual average of 6%, double the global average, and regional governments have already invested an estimated 10 billion in existing and new projects to boost capacity,' added Woodbridge. 'But with a surging population and large-scale economic diversification across the Gulf, a further investment of around $100 billion is required over the next 10 years to meet the rapidly escalating demand for water.'
Before the current conflict, Lebanon and Syria were the only two countries in the Middle East with adequate water supplies according to the United Nations' definition of levels critical for development. Whilst that has now changed with the damage inflicted on Lebanon's infrastructure, it is widely accepted that long before 2050, every country in the region will face dire water shortages that only desalination technology can avert.
Oman currently supplies 61% of its annual residential water through desalination, and Koussai Quteishat, Director of the Oman-based Middle East Desalination Research Centre says that it is vital to find ways to make the process less expensive. 'I believe that desalination is the top technological approach for increasing water supplies in the region, but other measures, such as recycling water and reducing consumption, as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which provide water for free, use more per person than anywhere else in the world, are also essential.'
Typical of the large scale projects currently being implemented, Qatar Electricity and Water Company Corporation (QEWC) has closed its $485.5 million financing of its Ras Abu Fontas B2 facility to fund the development of a 567MW power and 29.1 million gallons per day water desalination facility in Qatar, next to the existing Ras Abu Fontas facility - this 25 year deal established a new project finance benchmark for the longest loan tenor for any Middle East power and water sector deal.
Jordan's Minister of Environment, Khalid Irani, recently outlined the government's commitment to utilising renewable energy, saying that the government was keen to increase the use of solar and wind power in light of rising international oil prices. 'The government supports all efforts towards the use of renewable energy resources because renewable energy will not only reduce the energy bill, but is also cleaner and environmentally friendly," he said. 'Investing in renewable energy resources will create new businesses and more job opportunities.'
20% of houses in Jordan now use solar water heaters and the number is expected to quickly rise due to high international oil prices. Technical studies are currently under way for a further project in Saudi Arabia, which should be implemented within the next two years, creating a solar thermal plant as part of the Ayla Project in Aqaba that will generate power for the desalination of water and air conditioning. Over 30 water pumping stations are using solar energy in the desert, and there are also stations using wind turbines to pump water.
Other innovative approaches focus on 'green buildings', and this led to the creation of the Emirates GBC (Green Building Council), which is part of the World GBC, which has an overall mandate of making buildings 'green' across the world. The 10 country members include the US, Canada, Taiwan, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Australia, India and now the UAE.
Wafi City's district cooling plant in Dubai is the first building in the Middle East to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified. This means it was rated based on the LEED system, which assesses building performance and sustainability goals based on industry standards developed by the GBC in the US. The first phase of the project, an 8,100-tonne central cooling plant is already on line. The overall project incorporates five or six different phases and will provide a total of 20,000 tonnes of district cooling for the new Raffles Hotel, as well as for the existing Wafi City. Around 40% of Wafi's air conditioning energy costs will be reduced when this new district cooling plant comes on line, which is a massive leap in energy conservation.
'The opportunities for the control and instrumentation industry are huge over the next few decades, as considerable infrastructure is required,' said Woodbridge.
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