Document Type

Closed Project

Publication Date

Summer 2010


Timothy Anderson

Course Title

Engineering and Technology Management Synthesis

Course Number

ETM 590/690


Water supply -- Saudi Arabia -- Economic aspects, Water supply -- Saudi Arabia -- Management, Water security, Water resources development -- Technological innovations


Of all the planet's renewable resources, fresh water may be the most unforgiving. Difficult to purify, expensive to transport and impossible to substitute, water is essential to food production, to economic development and to life itself. The main driving forces for water problems are the burgeoning population, the accelerated development and competition for water in the urban, industrial and agricultural sectors, ineffective water management policies and practices, erratic precipitation, and the highly volatile regional peace and security situation. Desalination intrinsically consumes a lot of energy; as the prices of fossil fuel are high and continuing to rise, it is a costly affair to desalinate seawater. The crisis becomes more severe in countries where sea water is the main source of fresh water like Saudi Arabia.

The major challenges for the Saudi government now are plants nearing end of life, heavy energy consumption in desalination process, rapid increase in population, and diminishing water resources. Desalination plant construction, operating cost and water distribution cost constitute major portion of the expenses. In addition, the most important element is the consumption of oil for desalination process as a result of which it is projected that the country’s oil export will go down by 50% in 2030. To cater to these challenges and demands, the government is on the lookout for alternative technologies. Therefore, the Saudi government, along with specialized research institutes, is carrying out extensive research and exploring alternative ways to provide fresh water.

One of the companies that responded to the Saudi initiative to solve the water problem is Raytheon an American defense contractor. Raytheon’s proposal is to decentralize the water supply system in Saudi using a combination of humidity harvesting, Electrospray, and solar-powered technology, which is an attractive and viable method for the production of fresh water in remote arid areas. Economics is one of the most important factors in desalination decisions. This paper presents economic assessment to find the feasibility of using this technology to solve the problem. This paper takes into account the opportunity cost involved in using oil in the desalination process. As outlined in this paper, there are three main criteria affecting the cost of water; water production cost, distribution cost and oil opportunity cost. The cost of water production will decrease drastically with the use of Raytheon technology.

The evaluation of this technology indicates that this technology solution is feasible and provides a foundation for further investigation of the technology’s capability to perform in the Saudi environment. The results of our evaluation based on the different scenarios indicate that the implementation of new technology could save the Saudi government $219 million/y in distribution cost, $159 million/y in water production cost and $56.2 million/y in oil opportunity cost respectively in one plant only.


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