Saudi water projects momentum holds steady

12 September 2023

This package on Saudi Arabia’s water sector also includes: 

Riyadh holds water pipeline bid clarifications
Red Sea awards Amaala utility package
Five banks agree $545m Rabigh 4 financing
Saudi Arabia extends desalination bid deadline
Albawani joins Jafurah water developer team
Saudi Arabia evaluates Al-Haer wastewater bids


 

The Saudi water market remains the region’s largest, with $30bn-worth of projects in varying planning and procurement stages.

The sector is expected to expand further with multibillion-dollar capital expenditures allocated by the potable water and wastewater collection and treatment firm, the National Water Company (NWC), and Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), the world’s largest producer of desalinated water.

This offers great opportunities for water asset developers and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors aiming to capture a share of the kingdom’s burgeoning water projects market.

SWCC, NWC and the principal buyer of water, Saudi Water Partnership Company (SWPC), awarded over $32bn of water infrastructure and utility projects between 2013 and 2022, according to MEED Projects data.

Driving investment within the sector is the need to improve water security, a key component of Saudi Vision 2030, along with rising demand due to population and economic expansion.

Reducing the carbon footprint of the kingdom's existing seawater desalination fleet, dominated by plants running on older technologies, is also contributing to the urgency to build more energy-efficient water infrastructure.

This is matched by moves to make potable and wastewater water transmission and distribution more efficient and to minimise leakage and non-revenue water. The kingdom also needs to expand its overall water storage capacity to improve its emergency response.

Simultaneously, like most of its groundwater-scarce neighbours, there is growing pressure to adopt treated sewage effluent for agricultural and industrial applications to reduce demand for seawater desalination and comply with the kingdom’s circular carbon economy approach.

“It is an interesting time for the Saudi water sector,” says a Dubai-based water expert.

“There are many projects in the tendering phase, but there is also some degree of uncertainty in terms of how the roles of the key stakeholders could shift [in the future].”

This stems from the years-long restructuring of the sector and last year's cabinet resolution approving the transfer of water production, transportation and storage assets owned directly or indirectly by SWCC to Water Solutions Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Saudi sovereign vehicle, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

There is widespread expectation that SWCC will focus on research and development following the transfer of its assets to the PIF subsidiary, although this has not been formally announced. 

Diversified clients

The lengthy restructuring of the kingdom’s water sector and rapid advance of so-called gigaprojects have diversified the profile of clients in the kingdom.

Neom and its subsidiary Enowa, SWCC transmission arm Water Transmission & Technologies Company (WTTCo) and other gigaproject developers, such as the royal commissions for Riyadh City and Al-Ula, have joined the mainstream water utility companies and municipalities in tendering new water infrastructure contracts over the past year.

In terms of projects in the pre-execution phase, SWPC is the top client, with a pipeline of projects worth at least $7bn.

SWPC is mandated to procure all water infrastructure projects in the kingdom on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, including water desalination, wastewater treatment, transmission and reservoirs.

Its latest Seven-Year Planning Statement covering 2022-28 stipulates the procurement of about 50 independent water infrastructure projects, including several in the bid stage.

SWPC’s future projects pipeline outperforms that of NWC and SWCC. Neom, Enowa, WTTCo and the Royal Commission for Al-Ula round out the top seven clients.

Riyadh rides power projects surge

Independent projects

Following consecutive awards of independent water producer (IWP) and independent sewage treatment plant (ISTP) contracts between 2019 and 2021, SWPC has recently paced out the award of new contracts.

It has only awarded one contract, directly negotiated with Saudi utility developer Acwa Power for the Shuaiba 3 seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) project in 2022. This year, it awarded another contract for the Rabigh 4 IWP scheme, in addition to the contract to develop the kingdom’s first independent water transmission pipeline, which connects Rayis and Rabigh.

SWPC is evaluating the bids it received for the contract to develop the Al-Haer independent sewage treatment plant (ISTP), the first of the round-three projects under its ISTP programme, and expects to receive bids in October for the 300,000 cubic-metre-a-day (cm/d) Ras Mohaisen IWP.

The contract to develop the kingdom’s first independent strategic water reservoir (ISWR) project is expected to be awarded this year. The Juranah ISWR has a capacity to store 2.5 million cubic metres of water. The project is anticipated to significantly boost water security, particularly in Mecca and Medina, which host several million pilgrims annually.

EPC works

Despite moves to transfer its assets to the PIF subsidiary, SWCC cemented its reputation as the world’s largest producer of desalinated water when its fleet of 30 desalination plants reached a total combined capacity of 6.6 million cm/d in 2022.

The company is not resting on its past success, having issued successive tenders for SWRO plants using an EPC model over the past 12-18 months.

In July this year, it invited bids for the contract to build a 200,000 cm/d SWRO facility in Ras al-Khair.

This came three months after it received two bids for the contract to build the second phase of the Shuaibah water desalination plant, which has an even higher capacity of 545,000 cm/d.

Around the same time in March, SWCC tendered a contract to construct a greenfield SWRO plant in Yanbu with a design capacity of 500,000 cm/d.

SWPC last awarded a major SWRO contract in mid-2021. The giant 1 million cm/d Jubail SWRO plant is being built by a team of Metito and local firm Saudi Services for Electromechanic Works.

Before this, in late 2019, it awarded a contract to construct a 400,000 cm/d SWRO plant in Shuqaiq to a team of Spain’s Acciona and Al-Rashid Trading & Contracting Company.

SWCC, though WTTCo, has also tendered multiple water transmission projects, including pipelines around Riyadh and connecting Riyadh and Ras al-Khair, Shuqaiq and Jizan and Al-Duwadimi and Atif.

In its 2022 annual report, SWCC stated that it had achieved exceptional results in supporting the Saudi Green Initiative, reducing carbon emissions, increasing operational efficiency to above 99 per cent and saving SR1.6bn ($427m) in operational costs.

The company also “increased local content in its operational efficiency by 61 per cent and demonstrated noteworthy patent accomplishments, innovations, studies and scientific publications”.

Innovation

New tourism-related developments, the expansion of industrial complexes and the need to limit carbon emissions are driving capacity-building and innovation.

The Red Sea development is completing the kingdom’s first private sector multi-utility project, which includes developing and operating a solar photovoltaic power plant, battery energy storage system, water desalination and treatment and waste recycling plants in one contract.

In addition to tendering major water transmission and distribution networks, Neom is also finalising the design for a zero-liquid discharge SWRO plant catering to the development. Enowa, Japan’s Itochu and France’s Veolia are expected to tender the project's EPC package soon.

The proposed state-of-the-art desalination plant will be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy and use advanced membrane technology to produce separate brine streams.

This will enable the production of brine-derived products, which will be developed and monetised downstream. The bigger plan includes establishing a brine processing complex in Oxagon, which could require an investment of between $15bn and $20bn.

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Jennifer Aguinaldo
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