Assessing the economic feasibility of wind-powered desalination


Storing desalinated water within a strategic aquifer storage and recovery system has been identified as a potential cost-effective solution for the Gulf Council Cooperation (GCC) countries.

In this study, we investigated a wind-driven reverse osmosis (RO) scheme to create fresh water for ASR. The ongoing Liwa ASR project in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) served as a case-study to assess the economic feasibility of the concept.

As the RO plant is not destined to meet a real-time demand, its water production rate was allowed to vary, following a fluctuating wind power supply, thus avoiding the need for costly power storage. New generation wind turbines specifically designed to operate at low wind speed were investigated, which are better suited for the GCC. Sites were identified using Geographic Information System and the recently developed Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the UAE, followed by technical and cost analyses.

Findings showed that the wind-driven RO scheme can be competitive with the current thermal desalination in the UAE. However, the avoidance of shut-down of a variable load RO plant hampers the effective use of the fluctuating wind power, resulting in increased plant capital costs due to plant over-sizing. Several scenarios were investigated in this regard.

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