Mirfa 2 award sends positive market signal

22 February 2023


Jennifer Aguinaldo

Energy & technology editor

The contract to develop Mirfa 2, Abu Dhabi's second independent water project (IWP) utilising reverse osmosis water treatment technology, was awarded to France's Engie earlier this week.

It sends a positive market signal following a draught in contract awards between 2021 and 2022.

It is the first publicly tendered IWP contract to be awarded since June 2021, when Saudi Water Partnership Company awarded a team of Engie and local firms Nesma Company and Abdulaziz Alajlan Sons the contract to develop the Jubail 3B IWP in Saudi Arabia.

The only other IWP contract awarded last year was for Shuaibah 3 in Saudi Arabia. The contract was negotiated between SWPC and Saudi state utility developer Acwa Power, the developer of the Shuaibah independent water and power project (IWPP), whose existing multi-stage flash (MSF) technology-based plant will be decommissioned in line with the state offtaker's decarbonisation targets.

Engie offered to develop the 120 million-imperial-gallon-a-day (MIGD) Mirfa 2 IWP project for 48.32 $cents a cubic metre ($c/cm), beating an offer by a team led by Spain's Acciona by 8 per cent.

Photo: Mirfa is a small coastal town in Abu Dhabi's Al-Gharbia region

This price is slightly higher than the Engie-led team's offer of 42 $c/cm in 2020 for the Jubail 3B IWP, which has a higher capacity.

According to Emirates Water & Electricity Company, the project is expected to reach financial closure in the third quarter of this year. Initial water production is expected in the summer of 2025, and full production is due by the third quarter of 2025.

The award prompts renewed expectations for more contracts to be awarded this year. 

Two IWP contracts are to be awarded imminently, including for Shuweihat 4 in Abu Dhabi, which is expected to be awarded to South Korea/Spain-headquartered GS Inima, and for Saudi Arabia's Rabigh 4, which sources say could be awarded to Acwa Power again.

Two projects at the bidding stage may also be awarded before the year-end, including the Ras Mohaisen IWP in Saudi Arabia and Dubai's first IWP in Hassyan.

These developments indicate that 2023 is already set to outperform the lacklustre previous two years.

It also appears to show that clients may be shifting from the wait-and-see-until-the-market-condition-improves stance to one dictated by the need to meet water supply demand forecast in a more energy-efficient fashion, notwithstanding global inflation, project finance and materials cost putting upward pressure on levelised water cost despite decreasing electricity costs.

RELATED READ: Perfect storm for water projects

In addition to Shuweihat 4, Abu Dhabi has lined up four other seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) projects until 2029, and Riyadh has over twice that number planned. 

Beyond the GCC, Egypt is preparing to procure dozens of IWPs over the next 12-18 months, which means there will likely be no shortage of opportunities to win new contracts over the short to medium term.

The abundance of new projects coming to market will open opportunities for new private developers or those eyeing a bigger market share.

Notably, Engie's 40 per cent equity in the Mirfa 2 IWP project takes its net desalination water capacity in the GCC states to 1.85 million cubic metres a day (cm/d).

RELATED READ: Acwa Power and Engie dominate water ranking

Engie still has some way to go to close the gap with leading developer Acwa Power's 2.91 million cm/d of net capacity in the GCC region.

Winning Mirfa 2 IWP, however, expands the French developer's lead over its regional archrival in terms of gross capacity, which now stands at over 7 million cm/d.

Jennifer Aguinaldo
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