Water-Energy Nexus in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates has been witnessing fast-paced economic growth as well as rapid increase in population during the last couple of decades. As a result, the need for water and energy has increased significantly and this trend is expected to continue into the future. Water in the UAE comes from four different sources – groundwater (44%), desalinated seawater (42%), treated wastewater (14%), and surface water (1%). Most of the groundwater and treated seawater are used for irrigation and landscaping while desalinated seawater is used for drinking, household, industrial, and commercial purposes.

Water consumption per capita in UAE is more than 500 liters per day which is amongst the highest worldwide. UAE is ranked 163 among 172 countries in the world in total renewable water resources. In short, UAE is expected to be amongst extremely water stressed countries in 2040.

To address this, utilities have built massive desalination plants and pipelines to treat and pump seawater over large distances. Desalinated water consumption in UAE increased from 199,230 MIG in 2003 to 373,483 MIG in 2013 (Ministry of Energy 2014). In 2008, 89% of desalinated seawater in UAE came from thermal desalination plants and most of them are installed at combined cycle electric power plants (Lattemann and Höpner 2008). Desalination is energy as well capital intensive process. Pumping desalinated seawater from desalination plants to cities is also an expensive proposition.

Electrical energy consumption in UAE doubled from 48,155 GWh in 2003 to 127,561 GWh in 2018. Electricity in UAE is generated by fossil-fuel-fired thermoelectric power plants. Generation of electricity in that way requires large volumes of water to mine fossil fuels, to remove pollutants from power plants exhaust, generate steam that turns steam turbines, to cool down power plants, and flushing away residue after burning fossil fuels (IEEE Spectrum 2011).

Water production in UAE requires energy and energy generation in UAE requires water. So there is strong link between water and energy in UAE. The link between water and electricity production further complicates the water-energy supply in UAE, especially in winter when energy load drops significantly thus forcing power plants to work far from optimum points.

Several projects have been carried out in UAE to reduce water and energy intensity. Currently, the use of non-traditional water resources is limited to minor water reuse/recycling in UAE. Masdar Institute launched recently a new program to develop desalination technology that is powered by renewable energy.

Water-energy nexus in the UAE should be resilient and adaptive

Despite their interdependencies, water-energy nexus is not given due importance in the UAE. Currently, water systems in the UAE are vulnerable and not resilient to even small water and energy shortages. To solve this problem, water-energy nexus in UAE should be resilient and adaptive. Thus, there is a need to develop and demonstrate a new methodology that addresses water and energy use and supply in UAE cities in an integrated way leading to synergistic type benefits and improved water and energy security.

Modern, cutting-edge science and engineering methods should be used with the goal of developing a robust framework that can identifying suitable future development scenarios, selection criteria and intervention options resulting in more reliable, resilient and sustainable water and energy use.

About Mohammed Abdallah

Mohammed Abdallah is a Water Control Engineer in Abu Dhabi Transmission and Dispatch Company (TRANSCO) since 2008. He hold bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from American University of Sharjah and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. His research interests are in water and energy management.
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