Desalination industry enjoys growth spurt as scarcity starts to bite

The past five years has seen a 57% increase in the capacity of desalination plants on-line according to the latest data published by the International Desalination Association (IDA) and Global Water Intelligence (GWI). The installed base of desalination plants around the world now has a capacity of 78.4 million m3/d (19.8 billion US Gallons) compared to 47.6 million m3/d (12.6 billion US Gallons) at the end of 2008, according to the latest edition of the IDA/GWI Worldwide Desalting Plant Inventory.

The growth of the market for desalination reflects the fact that coastal communities are increasingly turning to the sea to meet their drinking water needs, while inland there is a tendency for groundwater to become increasingly brackish over time. Around 60% of desalination capacity treats seawater; the remainder treats brackish and less saline feedwater.

Historically, large scale desalination has mainly been built in the Gulf region where there is no alternative for public water supply. The combination of lower cost membrane desalination and increased water scarcity means that big desalination plants are now being built outside the Gulf. The largest membrane desalination plant in the world – the 444,000m3/d Victoria Desalination Plant in Melbourne Australia – came on line last month, but it will be soon surpassed by the 500,000m3/d Magtaa plant in Algeria, and the 510,000m3/d Soreq plant in Israel.

The largest thermal desalination plant in the world is the 880,000m3/d Shoaiba 3 desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, although this will be displaced in 2014 as the largest desalination plant in the world by the 1,025,000m3/d Ras Al Khair project in Saudi Arabia, which uses both membrane and thermal technology.

Christopher Gasson, publisher of Global Water Intelligence said, “At the moment, around 1% of the world’s population are dependent on desalinated water to meet their daily needs, but by 2025, the UN expects 14% of the world’s population to be encountering water scarcity. Unless people get radically better at water conservation, the desalination industry has a very strong future indeed. Seawater desalination is the only additional renewable source of freshwater available on this planet.

In the short term, however, it is likely that there will be a lull in the market because it will take a bit of time for demand to catch up with the amazing build-out of desalination plants we have seen over the past five years,” he added.

Growth in desalination is not linear, and it is tied to many other factors including the cost of oil, prices of certain commodities, and availability of financing. However, the underlying factors that have driven the growth of desalination remain in place, including population growth, industrial development, pollution of traditional water resources, and climate change. At the same time, the desalination industry has done much to lower the cost of desalination by developing technologies that lower energy requirements, implementing practices that achieve greater operational efficiency, and adopting measures to enhance environmental stewardship,” said Patricia A. Burke, Secretary General for the IDA.

Desalination is now practiced in 150 countries, from Australia to China and Japan, the United States, Spain and other European countries, the Middle East and North Africa.

About IDA
The International Desalination Association ( is a non-profit association that serves more than 2,400 core members in 60 countries and reaches an additional 4,000 affiliate members. Its membership comprises scientists, end-users, engineers, consultants and researchers from governments, corporations and academia. IDA is associated with the United Nations as part of a growing international network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

About Global Water Intelligence
Global Water Intelligence (GWI) researches and publishes business data and information about the water markets worldwide. Based in Oxford, UK it also has offices in Singapore and USA (Austin, Texas) and has researchers and office staff in many other countries. It publishes three subscription titles, a free weekly ‘GWI Briefing’ email, a number of websites, and around four individual market reports per year on particular water sectors/geographic regions. It also organises training courses and two major financial conferences for the water industry each year: the American Water Summit in the Fall (Chicago, USA 2012) and the Global Water Summit in Europe in Spring (Seville, Spain 2013). GWI was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2011. Press contact:, 27 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HU, UK. Tel: +44 1865 204208