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Water Scarcity Spurs Boom in Desalination Technology

Desalination: A Sustainable Solution for Water Scarcity?

With the growth in population and the rise in temperature due to climate change, water scarcity remains a significant concern globally. Despite about 70% of the earth’s surface covered in water, only less than 1% is drinkable, and freshwater resources are unevenly distributed. In arid regions, technology provides a solution with desalination, separating salt from ocean water to obtain freshwater for human survival. As such, desalination has become critical and essential in drought-prone areas. However, environmental experts have warned that the process is energy-intensive and toxic to the environment.

Desalination has been practiced for over a century, and currently, the world has over 20,000 desalination plants, with the largest being in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. Water scarcity is projected to worsen as the population increasing, and sub-Saharan Africa faces future water scarcity. Currently, 47% of the world’s desalinated water is produced in the Middle East and North Africa. Costs of desalination have decreased from about $5 (4.69 euros) per cubic meter in the 2000s to 50 cents in recent times.

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Environmental Impact of Desalination

Experts acknowledge that desalination has some environmental drawbacks in its current form, such as greenhouse gas emissions during separation of salt from water. A 2021 study on the environmental consequences of desalination in Cyprus found that the four plants in the country contribute around 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions and account for 5% of the total electricity consumption. The same study noted that the by-products from desalination, high-salinity and toxic saline effluents, affected the marine ecosystem in the regions of discharge pipelines.

Making Desalination Sustainable

Experts see renewable energy as the solution to the environmental impacts of desalination. German-based company Boreal Light has developed off-grid solar and wind desalination plants to reduce CO2 emissions and ensure greater energy independence and immunity from price fluctuations. Such plants match the price of directly accessing fresh water from rivers or wells, and the cost of the cheapest desalination, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from conventional desalination plants. Furthermore, technology improvements will continue to reduce the impacts of desalination on climate and the environment.

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Desalination has become essential in drought-prone areas, but its current form is energy-intensive and toxic to the environment. Renewable energy offers the solution to reduce the environmental impacts of desalination. As technology improves, the environmental impacts will continue to be reduced, making the process more sustainable. As such, countries must invest in renewable energy-powered desalination plants to provide the freshwater that will ensure human survival in arid regions.

News Desk
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