Desalination The Next Big Boom? Spending On Projects To Increase 191% by 2016

running water photo

Photo via Minimalist Stuff via Flickr Creative Commons

We know desalination is a technology more companies and local governments are looking to as a relief from crunched water supplies. However, the latest report on desalination spending still takes us by surprise. According to Global Water Intelligence, spending on desal projects will increase to $3.3 billion per year by 2016, representing an increase of 191% over today's spending. Despite the environmental concerns about the technology, it seems to be plowing ahead as an industry. Desalination To Be A Multibillion Dollar Market In Just A Few Years
The report comes hot on the heels of another report from earlier in the summer that states the desalination market worldwide will hit over $16.6 billion per year by 2016. Desal Markets 2010 seems to think that the US's portion of that spending will be about $3.3 billion annually, reaching a total of $30 billion in about 5 years. According to their summaries:

The US currently has 2,324 million gallons per day of contracted desalination capacity, but this will rise to 3,434 million gallons per day by 2016. During that time the cost of operating existing plants and the new plants that come on line will rise to $1,302.9m, compared to $822.1m in 2010. This steep increase in expenditure on desalination is partof a global trend towards the development of alternative water resources in the face of growing scarcity.

In other words, desalination will be considered an important solution, despite costs. And the costs can be significant far beyond money.

desalination plant photo

Desalination plant worker taking readings; Photo by Lance Cheung via Flickr Creative Commons
Desalination Sucks Up Energy, Spits Out Brine
Desalination is highly energy intensive, and can have negative impacts on the ecosystems from which brackish or salt water is pulled, and to which the leftover brine is poured. Environmental groups tend to be very wary about new desalination projects, and this along with the expense of running a plant has kept projects from going online in numbers. So far, anyway. Though it seems Desalination Markets tends to think it's more an issue of politics than technology or environmental impact.

Christopher Gasson, editor of Desalination Markets 2010, states, "We have been tracking desalination projects in California for seven years, and during that time not a single large scale project has started construction in a meaningful way. It is not because they don't need the water or can't afford it, it is because there is not the political will to break the deadlock. But this will come, particularly now that Schwartzeneggar has cancelled the proposed water bond for the state. If pumping from the delta continues to be restricted, cities down the coast are going to have to look elsewhere for their water."

That means the harder it is to get fresh water, the more attractive desal plants will become to pretty much everyone, even when the cost of running plants goes up. The expense of a plant, the report notes, is mainly in its initial construction thanks to the cost of building it to be energy efficient with a low environmental footprint. But as a plant stays online, that energy efficiency will pay for itself eventually.

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