U.S.A. – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a $100 million fund to launch an Energy-Water Desalination Hub to tackle the nation’s water security issues. The Hub will emphasize early stage research and development for energy-sparing and cost-effective desalination technologies. It will also focus on treating non-traditional water sources for multiple end-use purposes.
The DOE will fund one five-year award. The recipient of this award will excel in four technical areas: materials research and development, new processes research and development, modeling and simulation tools, and integrated data and analysis. The deadline for submitting concept papers is early February 2019.
The United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is expanding its focus on desalination by collaborating with technology leaders on several projects. The goal of the NREL is to explore the use of geothermal and solar thermal technologies in treating water. Thermal desalination is generally considered to be costlier and less energy efficient than RO desalination. However, using untapped or residual heat in geothermal resources as a heat source for thermal desalination eliminates this energy and cost challenge. The NREL will be collaborating with UCLA to research the application of this process.
The NREL is also involved in three other projects with different industry partners. These projects will focus on reducing the cost of water production by reducing the cost of heat.
After only three years, the Carlsbad desalination plant in California has reached a significant milestone—having produced 151 million cubic meters water. The plant produces 378,541 m3/d and is the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere.
The Adelaide Desalination Plant, Australia. Credit: Acciona-agua.com
AUSTRALIA – The State Government of South Australia and the Federal Government have struck a deal to carry out a $2 million study to determine how Adelaide’s desalination plant could be utilized to reduce the city’s dependence on river water. The $1.8 billion desalination plant was built during the drought that lasted between 2001 and 2009.
As of 2017 the plant’s electricity bill was $13.5 million per year, even though it provided only 2 percent of the water supply in South Australia.
Adelaide receives most of its 246,575 m3/d of water from the Murray River. The plant only produces 21,917 m3/d but has a capacity to provide 273,973 m3/d. South Australia’s Water Minister stated that he expects the federal government to help cover operating costs if the plant’s water production increases.
SAUDI ARABIA – In the past six years, Saudi Arabia has announced investments of more than $350 billion into renewable energy. However, not a single project has actually commenced construction and the Saudis’ commitment to renewable energy seems to waver according to the price of oil.
In 2012, the Kingdom initiated a $109 billion solar program that aimed to generate a third of Saudi Arabia’s electricity from renewable energy by 2032. Early last year, the government reported a new short-term target to generate 10 percent of its power from solar and wind plants by 2023 at a cost of $50 billion. More recently, in March 2018, the government announced a $200 billion agreement with Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp to increase the country’s solar capacity and triple the kingdom’s current electric output.
Saudi Arabia is bathed in sunlight. It has on average less than 45 cloudy days per year. Utilizing the country’s vast empty space for solar energy could theoretically generate power equivalent to the Saudi’s oil reserves of 266 million barrels (three-fifths of the Kingdom’s electricity is derived from oil). With oil prices dropping 30 percent since the October peak, the Saudis have even greater incentive to pursue their solar plans.
OMAN – Modern Water has revealed that it sold an AquaPak desalination plant for an undisclosed sum to a theme park operator in Oman. The facility will be used on a large safari theme park designed by John Chipperfield, and owned by a senior member of the country’s royal family.
 “Department of Energy Announced $100 million Energy-Water Desalination Hub to Provide Secure and Affordable Water”, energy.gov, Dec 13, 2018. <https://www.energy.gov/articles/department-energy-announces-100-million-energy-water-desalination-hub-provide-secure-and> accessed Dec 18, 2018.
 “NREL Expands research in geothermal and solar desalination”, wateronline.com, Dec 10, 2018. <https://www.wateronline.com/doc/nrel-expands-research-in-geothermal-and-solar-desalination-0001> accessed Dec 18, 2018.
 Joe Little “Carlsbad Desalination Plant purifies 40 billionth gallon of water”, nbcsandiego.com, Dec 11, 2018. <https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Carlsbad-Desalination-Plant-Purifies-40-Billionth-Gallon-of-Ocean-Water-502538451.html> accessed Dec 18, 2018.
 Marty McCarthy and Matt Coleman “Plan to revive Adelaide’s desalination plant to help Murray Rivr”, abc.net.au, Dec 14, 2018. <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-14/adelaide-desal-plant-revival-plan-to-ease-use-of-murray-water/10619960> accessed Dec 18, 2018.
 “Saudi Arabia’s plans for solar energy have yet to see light of day”, businesstimes.com, Dec 17, 2018. <https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/energy-commodities/saudi-arabias-plans-for-solar-energy-have-yet-to-see-light-of-day> accessed Dec 18, 2018.
 “Modern Water sells desalination plant to Omani safari theme park”, stockmarketwire.com, Dec 14, 2018. <http://www.stockmarketwire.com/article/6245955/Modern-Water-sells-desalination-plant-to-Omani-safari-theme-park.html > accessed Dec 18, 2018.