Solar PV powers desalination plant in Abu Dhabi

Masdar Desalination Plant

The water desalination plant in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi is a cluster of five innovative pilot projects that aim to test new technology configurations and bring them to the market.

The plant is owned by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned company that aims to foster renewable energy technology in the country of United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region.

The latest pilot project added to the cluster of the water desalination plants in Ghantoot uses electricity generated by a 30 KW off-grid solar PV system.

The new configuration was developed by French start-up Mascara Nouvelles Technologies and aims to utilise solar energy to power the desalination process.

This is important because 50% of a desalination plant’s lifetime costs come from energy consumption, said a Masdar spokesperson.

Of course, apart from on-site renewable energy generation, another way to reduce power consumption is through innovations in desalination technology. This is why Masdar is testing different technologies in the Ghantoot cluster.

Nevertheless, Mascara’s innovation is another forefront for the PV sector. The facility works off the grid, which makes it ideal for small, remote communities too.

Currently, the Mascara facility in Abu Dhabi stops operating at night, when there is no solar radiation. There are plans to connect it to the grid, so that operation can continue into the night.

More solar plans

Alexander Ritschel, head of technology at Masdar, told pv magazine that the Ghantoot cluster will also install three solar thermal collector systems. These will be used to produce heat, since many desalination plants consume heat.

However, Ritschel added, PV also makes sense because desalination plants use electricity as well, and photovoltaics are very useful.

We have no plans to install more PV at the Ghantoot site because this is only a complex for pilot plants, said Ritschel. However, what we aim for is better understanding of how to integrate PV systems at desalination plants, so that the future desalination process is green, Ritschel concluded.

pv magazine has learned that First Solar will publish a white paper next week asking for the MENA region to adopt solar PV via applications such as water desalination projects. The paper’s author is Ahmed S. Nada, the company’s Vice President and Regional Executive for the Middle East.

The problem currently is that PV generation for water desalination plants in the Gulf region will struggle to compete with electricity prices from the grid as long as fossil-fuel electricity generation is heavily subsidised. If the Gulf states remove the fuel subsidies, PV would be an obvious choice.