SAUDI GAZETTE - THE Desert Kingdom; desalination from oil power to solar power?
Saudi Arabia finds itself in an interesting economic cleft stick. While blessed with oil that it can currently sell at around $104 per barrel on the world market, it is compelled to burn a sizable proportion of that potential income to produce desalinated water. Cost of production of water fluctuates, but a fair guess is between 40 and 90 cents a barrel, depending on fuel price.
To produce water, the Kingdom uses approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil a day across its 30 or so desalination plants to meet the demand for domestic and industrial water. Little of this water — if any is used for agriculture. The water for agriculture — some 85 to 90 percent of the total water use in the Kingdom — comes from non-replaceable resources, underground aquifers that are drying out rapidly. For every 100 liters per annum withdrawn, only one liter or less finds itself back into the aquifer.
The government has wisely decided that food security, once an unquestionable shibboleth of policy, is no longer worth the use of resources and has taken up the idea of virtual water. This refers to the hidden flow of water if food or other commodities are traded from one place to another.