Saudi water begins next growth phase

10 March 2023


Saudi Arabia’s National Water Strategy 2030 continues to drive investments in the kingdom’s water desalination, treatment and distribution sector.

The strategy aims to reduce the water demand-supply gap and ensure desalinated water accounts for 90 per cent of the national urban supply to reduce reliance on non-renewable ground sources.

The need to boost the security of supply amid rising demand, volatile costs and increased compliance with sustainability goals is also driving project activity – particularly in terms of using more energy-efficient technologies to convert seawater into potable water – as well as improving storage capacity.

As of March, an estimated 2.66 million cubic metres a day (cm/d) of water desalination capacity is under construction by the main water utility provider Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) and state water offtaker Saudi Water Partnership Company (SWPC). 

At least a further 2.4 million cm/d of capacity is under procurement using both the independent water producer (IWP) model, mainly through SWPC, and the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model, primarily via SWCC. 

Following the award of successive IWP contracts in 2019-20, SWPC paced the award of new contracts and also tendered new jobs in 2021-22.

As in most sectors and geographies, the Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine impacted project finance costs and inflation in Saudi Arabia, both particularly relevant to IWP projects.

New developments in the latter part of last year and the first few months of 2023, including the imminent award of the contract to develop the Rabigh 4 IWP, indicate that SWPC is reestablishing its projects momentum.

Similarly, there has been increased activity in water desalination EPC projects being procured by SWCC, such as the proposed seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) facilities in Shuaibah and Yanbu, which have a combined capacity of over 1 million cm/d.

These are in addition to the under-construction Jubail 2 SWRO plant, with a capacity of 1 million cm/d, and the 400,000 cm/d Shuqaiq 1 SWRO facility, whose main contracts were awarded in 2021 and 2020, respectively.

Along with meeting rising demand, these projects address the decarbonisation requirements of Saudi Arabia’s water sector, which the kingdom’s pledge last year to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 has made more urgent.

This drive is highlighted by the Shuaibah 3 IWP project, for which a team led by Riyadh-headquartered utility developer Acwa Power won the directly-negotiated contract in 2022.

The 600,000 cm/d SWRO plant will replace the existing multi-stage flash (MSF)-based desalination unit that is being decommissioned in 2025 at the existing Shuaibah 3 independent water and power project (IWPP).

The Shuaibah 3 project was the lone IWP contract awarded by SWPC last year.

The same carbon emissions reduction incentive is driving the Yanbu 2 SWRO project. According to SWCC, the project aligns with improving the environmental impact of the desalination water unit of Yanbu phase 2.

Power & Water Utility Company for Jubail & Yanbu (Marafiq) owns the Yanbu 2 integrated water and power desalination plant, which came onstream in 2015. Like the Shuaibah 3 IWPP, the facility’s desalination unit utilises the older, energy-intensive MSF technology.

Saudi Arabia reinvigorates power sector

Other water PPP projects 

The procurement processes are proceeding simultaneously for several independent sewage treatment plants (ISTP), water transmission pipelines and water reservoir facilities being overseen by SWPC across Saudi Arabia.

SWPC tendered the first scheme under the third round of its ISTP programme in November. The Al-Haer ISTP will have a design capacity of 200,000 cm/d.

The tender is also expected in the first half of the year for the two other schemes under batch three, the Riyadh East and Khamis Mushait ISTP schemes.

At least five other ISTP projects are in the planning stage. 

In November, the Taif ISTP scheme, one of the first-round ISTP projects awarded in 2019, entered commercial operation. 

SWPC has received three bids for its first water transmission pipeline public-private partnership (PPP) project, which links Rayis in Medina to Rabigh in Mecca, with prequalification under way for three similar schemes.

Bids are due in April for the contract to develop the kingdom’s first independent strategic water reservoir (ISWR) project. The Juranah ISWR project will be implemented in Mecca, using a build, own, operate and transfer model. The project includes a water reservoir and associated infrastructure and facilities.

It supports Saudi Arabia’s goal to increase municipal water storage capacity to an average of seven days by 2030. In addition, the government aims to increase water storage capacity to an equivalent of 20 days of Hajj demand in Mecca and 40 days of Hajj demand in Medina by 2022. 

Two other IWTP schemes are planned for Mecca under SWPC’s 2020 seven-year planning statement.

Wastewater treatment

Over the past year, the kingdom’s chief wastewater collection and treatment firm, National Water Company (NWC), has tendered a series of contracts across governorates and provinces.

They include contracts for the construction of networks and pumping stations in Aziziyah in Mecca and other areas in Al-Khobar; three lifting stations and ejection lines with diameters of up to 700mm serving different areas in Jubail; and a sewage project in the King Fahd suburb in the Eastern Province and adjacent schemes west of Abu Hadriya Road in Dammam.

Requests for proposals (RFPs) have also been issued to complete sewage facilities in Al-Khafji governorate, West Safwa and Fayhaa.

These projects are part of NWC’s five-year, SR108bn ($29bn) investment plan for the kingdom’s water infrastructure. The latest five-year plan allocates an estimated SR39bn to Mecca, SR16bn to the Eastern Province and SR14.2bn to Riyadh.

The privatisation of NWC’s sewage treatment plant network is also being undertaken in parallel with improving its underlying infrastructure.

Under long-term operation and management (LTOM) agreements, private sector companies can bid to operate and upgrade water treatment plants.

The first package, for Mecca, was awarded in September 2022 to a team of the local Miahona and Thabat Construction Company. The rehabilitate-operate-transfer scheme is for 10 years and is valued at SR392m. Eight other packages are expected to be tendered under the LTOM programme.   

MEED's April 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia also includes:

> CONSTRUCTION: Saudi construction project ramp-up accelerates

> UPSTREAM: Aramco slated to escalate upstream spending

> DOWNSTREAM: Petchems ambitions define Saudi downstream

> POWER: Saudi Arabia reinvigorates power sector

> BANKING: Saudi banks bid to keep ahead of the pack
Jennifer Aguinaldo
Related Articles
  • Yahsat wins $5.7bn UAE contract

    22 September 2023

    Al-Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) has won an AED18.7bn ($5.1bn) contract for the provision of satellite capacity and services to the UAE government. 

    Its subsidiary, Yahsat Government Solutions, will implement the 17-year contract, which includes operations, maintenance and technology management services of ground segment satellite systems and terminals.

    The contract will replace two current agreements, the capacity services agreement and the managed services mandate, which end in November and December 2026, respectively.

    Under the new contract, Yahsat will provide the government with "secure and reliable satellite capacity and related managed services using the Al-Yah 1 and Al-Yah 2 satellites, currently in orbit, and supplement this with two new satellites, Al-Yah 4  and Al-Yah 5".

    It is expected that the Al-Yah 4 satellite will be launched in 2027, followed by Al-Yah 5 in 2028.

    Yahsat has been providing services to the UAE government for nearly two decades, since it first began operations.

    The contract increases Yahsat's contracted future revenues to AED25.7bn, 16 times its 2022 annual revenues, according to a company statement.

    It also extends backlog well beyond 2040, providing security and visibility over its future cash flows.

    In June, Yahsat signed an authorisation to proceed (ATP) with Airbus for the construction of Al-Yah 4 and Al-Yah 5.

    According to Yashsat, the ATP document "preserves the programme schedule and enables certain activities to commence, such as the system requirements review, design work and procurement activities for long-lead items".

    The Al-Yah 4 and Al-Yah 5 procurement, including spacecraft, ground segment infrastructure, launch and insurance, will be funded by Yahsat’s resources, in addition to other potential funding options that are currently under review.

    The award also includes an advance payment from the government of $1bn, to be received in 2024.

    Main photo: Musabbeh al-Kaabi, chairman of Yahsat
    Jennifer Aguinaldo
  • Riyadh builds the world’s largest urban park

    21 September 2023


    Tucked away from view behind site hoarding in the centre of Riyadh, work is progressing on a project that will transform the heart of the Saudi capital by creating the world’s largest urban park.

    The King Salman Park project will cover an area of 16.7 square kilometres, and more than 70 per cent of that space will be green areas.

    “The unique aspect of our project when you compare it to others is the amount of green space it will have,” says George Tanasijevich, CEO of King Salman Park Foundation.

    “Other projects will have hotel rooms and residential units, but none will have the amount of green space that King Salman Park will have. It will be substantial by global standards.”

    The scale of the project becomes apparent when considering public parks in other major cities. It is five times the area of New York’s Central Park, six times the size of London’s Hyde Park, and 16 times larger than Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

    The aim of King Salman Park is to give residents of Riyadh access to a world-class park on their doorstep – the park is connected to several main roads and linked to the Riyadh Metro and the city’s bus station.

    “People today have to travel to experience green spaces, so we are bringing something here that will allow them the convenience of being at home and experiencing the lifestyle benefits of green space,” says Tanasijevich.

    Land at the King Salman Park site has been contoured to create hills

    While much of the focus of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is on economic transformation, it also includes targets aimed at improving the quality of life for people in the kingdom.

    “There is an economic aspect to what we are doing,” says Tanasijevich. “The primary highlight of our contribution [to Vision 2030] is more focused on lifestyle. It is not just being able to spend time in green spaces, but also all the sports facilities that will encourage younger people to become more interested in sports and athletics.”

    Project progress

    Launched in March 2019, there has been significant progress on the construction of the project. Much of the land has been shaped and contoured to create hills that will break up Riyadh’s typically flat topography.

    Work is also advancing on infrastructure and buildings, including the Royal Arts Complex and a visitor centre.

    “What we are trying to do is put together components that work together as a standalone project that are self-sustaining. We do not want people to visit and feel something is missing,” says Tanasijevich. 

    “We are going to have enough variety and elements in there that even when we open phase one, people are going to embrace it and find a multitude of ways to experience it.”

    As construction advances, the project took a major step forward on the first day of the Cityscape Global exhibition, which was held in Riyadh on 10-13 September. There, the King Salman Park Real Estate Development Fund was launched, with the aim of developing the first real estate investment plot within the site.

    The fund will bring in fresh financing for a SR4bn ($1.1bn) mixed-use project that will have more than 1,500 residential units together with offices, retail outlets, hotels, schools and other public amenities on a 290,000 square-metre site.

    Saudi Fransi Capital is the fund manager and King Salman Park Investment & Real Estate Development Company is the master developer. Naif al-Rajhi Investment Company is the real estate developer and master lessee of the entire project.

    Images: King Salman Park Foundation
    Colin Foreman
  • Amaala multi-utilities contract is valued at $2bn

    21 September 2023

    The contract to develop and operate a multi-utilities infrastructure for the 4,155 square-kilometre Amaala tourism scheme on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast is valued at $2bn, according to an industry source.

    Red Sea Global recently awarded the Amaala multi-utilities contract to a team comprising France’s EDF and UAE-based Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar).

    The scope of the contract includes a 250MW solar power plant and 700 megawatt-hour battery energy storage system that will enable Amaala to be powered entirely by solar energy.

    The work scope includes a seawater reverse osmosis plant with a peak capacity of 37,000 cubic metres a day, as well as a sewage treatment plant. Both will be powered by renewable energy.

    MEED understands another French firm, Suez, will implement the water infrastructure component of the project.

    Red Sea Global and the developer team have yet to confirm the engineering, procurement and construction and battery energy storage contractors for the project.  

    Amaala issued the tender for the contract in October 2021. It will be developed using a public-private partnership model.

    In February 2022, Amaala appointed Austria-headquartered ILF Consulting Engineers as technical adviser for the multi-utilities project.

    Concession agreement

    The developer consortium will be responsible for the development; financing; engineering, procurement, construction and installation; testing and commissioning; insurance; ownership; operation and maintenance; and transfer of each of the infrastructure systems under a 25-year concession agreement.  

    Each infrastructure system will be transferred to Amaala at the end of the concession term.

    Owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund, Amaala includes three communities – Triple Bay, the Coastal Development and the Island – each consisting of several residential, hospitality and retail components.

    Construction works on phase one of Triple Bay have started.

    The scheme is part of the Amaala Tourism Destination Development project.

    Amaala previously planned the project. In October 2022, Amaala merged with The Red Sea Development Company to form a new company called Red Sea Global, which is now implementing the project.
    Jennifer Aguinaldo
  • Saudi Arabia’s $2bn water pipeline expands private sector role

    19 September 2023

    Jennifer Aguinaldo
    Energy & technology editor

    The $2bn Rayis-Rabigh independent water transmission pipeline (IWTP) project in Saudi Arabia further expands the role of private companies in developing and operating public infrastructure assets within the kingdom.

    It could have been just another water pipeline project if not for its scale – it extends 150 kilometres and can transmit up to 500,000 cubic metres of water – and its structure as a 35-year public-private partnership project.

    It also links major municipalities in Medina and Mecca, further increasing the project's strategic importance. 

    The project is reminiscent of the Rabigh 3 independent water project and the Dammam independent sewage treatment plants, which were procured between 2018 and 2019 by the state-backed offtaker Saudi Water Partnership Company (SWPC), formerly known as the Water & Electricity Company.

    The levelised water transmission tariff of SR1.256 ($0.33) a cubic metre is without any precedent, since the project is the first of its kind.

    The Rayis-Rabigh IWTP will utilise the build-operate-transfer model, rather than the build-own-operate project structure employed by the private sector water desalination and water treatment plant projects in the kingdom.

    The project demonstrates the private sector's appetite to win new work that does not necessarily fall within its comfort zone, since all water transmission pipeline projects in the kingdom have previously been procured using the conventional engineering, procurement and construction model.

    A total of 31 companies, including 14 that are locally domiciled, expressed interest in bidding for the Rayis-Rabigh IWTP contract in December 2021.

    The contract was tendered in August 2022 and SWPC received bids in March this year from three teams, including one led by Nesma Company and another led by Vision International.

    Alkhorayef Water & Power Technologies, which leads the winning consortium for the project, said it will now work with the relevant stakeholders to reach financial close on the project.

    If successfully implemented, the project paves the way for seven IWTP projects that the kingdom is planning to procure in 2022-28.

    The market will now focus on the award of the contract for the kingdom's first independent strategic water storage project, also in Mecca, as Saudi Arabia continues to push the limits for private sector participation in previously state-dominated assets.
    Jennifer Aguinaldo
  • Aramco extends Safaniya cogen bid deadline

    18 September 2023

    Saudi Aramco has extended by three months the tender closing date for a contract to develop a cogeneration independent steam and power plant (ISPP) project in Safaniya.

    It now expects to receive bids by December in lieu of the previous bid deadline of 17 September, according to a source close to the project.

    Aramco held a job explanation meeting and site visit for the Safaniya ISPP project in May.

    Aramco issued the tender for the contract for the planned cogeneration ISPP facility, which will cater to Aramco's Safaniya central processing facilities (CPF), in April.

    MEED understands that the electricity generated during the steam production will be supplied to the CPF and offshore oil and water injection facilities through a new 230-kilovolt gas insulation station.

    Under the current plan, the Safaniya CPF will provide fuel gas, desalinated water and steam condensate to the proposed cogeneration plant, treating the oily and process wastewater.

    The plant is expected to have a design capacity of between 500MPPH and 700MPPH steam and 300MW-400MW of power generation. It also entails the capacity expansion of a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant by 10,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d).

    Aramco expects to implement the cogeneration project on a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis.

    The plant is expected to be commissioned in 2027 and will remain in service as a capital lease for 25 years from the start-up date.

    It is understood bidders are required to provide committed funding for at least 50 per cent of the project's full senior debt requirement upon the tender closing date.

    The facility is envisaged as the primary power source for the Safaniya CPF.

    Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) and US-based White & Case are providing financial and legal advisory services to the project client. Germany's Fichtner is providing technical consultancy services.

    Ongoing cogen projects

    In July last, Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) won the contract to develop Aramco’s Jafurah cogeneration ISPP project.

    The plant will have a power capacity of 270-320MW and a low-pressure (LP) steam demand of 77-166 thousand pounds an hour (klb/hr) and high-pressure (HP) steam demand of 29-126 klb/hour by 2023. The LP and HP steam demand will increase to 283-373 klb/hr and 66-321 klb/hr by 2027, respectively.

    Construction work is under way for Aramco’s Tanajib ISPP and desalination plant. Aramco selected a team comprising Japan’s Marubeni and the UAE-based Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa) to develop the project in 2020.

    On 19 April, Saudi Aramco Total Refining & Petrochemical Company (Satorp) received proposals for the contract to develop a cogeneration ISPP serving the Amiral petrochemicals project in Jubail.

    It is understood that Satorp has issued a conditional award letter to the preferred bidder for the contract, a team comprising Japan's Jera and the UAE's Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa).

    The facility is expected to have a power generation capacity of 470MW.
    Jennifer Aguinaldo