For three years the population of Agadir, on Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast, has been struggling with a drought that has forced the authorities to divert water from dams meant for farm irrigation to residential areas in order to provide drinkable water to half a million people. Agadir’s agricultural heartlands were left reeling by parched fields and decimated crop yields when temperature monitors at Agadir Airport soared to 49 degrees Celsius in August, the Kingdom’s highest temperature on record.
This summer’s heat wave also shattered records in Tunisia, while the UN warns that Madagascar is on the brink of its first climate-induced famine, after months without rain.
As water scarcity is forced towards the top of the political agenda, North African governments are investing in water desalination (desal) plants.
The Algerian government is implementing a new emergency plan that will focus on seawater desal in its drinking supply. Tunisia is ramping up production of multi-million dollar facilities, and Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund is building financial partnerships of up to $2.5bn to build, own and operate 17 new solar-powered desal plants by 2025. The Egyptian government has announced plans to invest $8.5bn by 2050 to build 47 seawater desal plants through public-private partnerships, increasing its desal capacity by 6.4m cubic metres a day (MMm/d).
“Egypt has been successful in harnessing solar and wind energy with above average yields, making the efficiency of plants quite attractive, which helped create a very low cost base for energy units, and those competitive rates are now becoming a solid base for enabling and powering more sustainable tech like desal, and this is the breakthrough,” says Ayman Soliman, CEO at the Sovereign Fund of Egypt.
ACWA Power, the Saudi Arabian energy and desal giant, say they are studying several opportunities for seawater reverse osmosis plants in North Africa, which will be powered by solar, wind, or a combination of both.
“Egypt presents a valuable opportunity for us to lead the energy transition and deliver water and power reliably and responsibly, and we’re excited to participate in the country’s development plans and transition to a greener future,” says Thomas Altmann, executive vice president for innovation and new technology.
Most of the world’s 20,000 desal plants usually fall into one of two categories. Sea, waste, brackish and other water categories are heated to get a pure vapour that is cooled into liquid for safe drinking; or membranes are used to push water at great pressure through filters to draw out salt and other impurities.
Desal businesses make a profit by supplying water to residential, commercial and government end-users, or provide water to government-owned distributers. Yet facilities are often expensive to build, energy intensive and environmentally damaging, as the…