UAE ramps up decarbonisation of water sector

10 October 2023

This package on the UAE's water sector also includes: 

Dewa signs Hassyan water project agreements
Petrojet joins Project Wave contractor team
Project Wave first phase reaches financial close

Alpha Dhabi acquires majority stake in Metito
Hatta reservoir nears completion
Sharjah moves Hamriyah bid deadline


As a water-scarce country, the UAE has relied on non-conventional water, particularly seawater treated in desalination plants, to meet rising demand.

Over the past decade, the energy-intensive water treatment process, especially when using older technologies, has been a key focus for policymakers tasked with aligning industries with the country’s energy diversification and, more recently, net-zero carbon dioxide emissions agendas.

Decarbonising the water supply has entailed decoupling power and water production and improving the level of treated sewage effluent (TSE) reuse. Other initiatives involve modernising the water pipeline transmission network and tapping renewable energy to power desalination plants.

Demand management initiatives such as tariff reforms and awareness campaigns to make end users conscious of their consumption have also been put in place.

The past few months have marked several milestones in the country’s plan to decarbonise its water sector.

Two private water desalination plants that use reverse osmosis technology to treat seawater are in the final commissioning stage, expanding the UAE’s water production capacity from more energy-efficient plants.

These are the 200 million-imperial-gallon-a-day (MIGD) seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant in Taweela in Abu Dhabi and another plant in Umm al-Quwain, which has a capacity of 150MIGD.

Abu Dhabi’s second major SWRO project, the 120MIGD Mirfa 2 independent water producer (IWP), also reached financial close this year.

Crucially, Abu Dhabi dismantled the thermal-powered Taweelah A2 independent water and power producer (IWPP) plant last year, following the expiry of its long-term offtake contract. The plant’s desalination unit ran on the older multi-stage flash technology.

Hassyan 1 

Dubai achieved an important milestone in October when state utility Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa) and Saudi-headquartered Acwa Power signed a 30-year water-purchase agreement (WPA) and shareholder agreement for the Hassyan 1 IWP project.

Acwa Power will develop and operate the power plant for 30 years at a levelised water cost of 36.5 $cents a cubic metre, a record low, although not nearly as low as the tariff proposed by another developer when the contract was first tendered.

The project supports Dewa’s plan to increase its water desalination capacity from 490MIGD to 750MIGD by the end of the decade.

Dewa has said the Hassyan 1 IWP will be powered by solar energy, further reducing the plant’s carbon footprint.

In Abu Dhabi, the official signing of a WPA for the Shuweihat S4 SWRO project is imminent, which will add another 70MIGD  to the emirate’s installed water production capacity once complete.

The Shuweihat 4 plant will cater to potable water demand in Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra region, a key focus of Abu Dhabi’s economic development plan.

The bidding process is also under way for two more SWRO plants in Abu Dhabi. The Hudayriat and Saadiyat RO plants, each with a capacity of 50MIGD, will be developed as one IWP contract.

Emirates Water & Electricity Company (Ewec) has not mandated the inclusion of a solar photovoltaic (PV) plant for its most recent IWP projects, as it did for the Taweelah RO plant in 2019. However, it will likely tap either solar or nuclear energy, or both, for its upcoming SWRO plants in line with its goal to halve its total carbon dioxide emissions to 22 million tonnes a year by 2035.

The northern Sharjah emirate is also procuring its first IWP. The planned Hamriyah SWRO plant will have a capacity of 90MIGD.

In addition to the utility clients, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) has awarded the contract to develop the first phase of Project Wave, which aims to replace the aquifer water injection systems used to maintain reservoir pressure in Abu Dhabi's onshore oil fields.

The project is expected to reduce the water injection-related energy consumption of the oil fields by up to 30 per cent.


Dubai Municipality activated a major programme this year to develop deep tunnels and sewage treatment plants across the emirate. This long-term project could require an investment of up to AED80bn ($22bn).

Known as the Deep Tunnels Portfolio, the scheme will be developed as a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative and will expand the role of private companies in the emirate’s water infrastructure sector.  

It involves the construction of two sets of deep tunnels terminating at two terminal pump stations located at sewerage treatment plants (STPs) in Warsan and Jebel Ali. A conventional sewage and drainage collection system and STPs will be built in Hatta. The scheme also includes recycled water distribution systems connected to the STPs.

Approved by Dubai’s Executive Council in June, the project has been designed to serve the needs of the Dubai population for the next 100 years in alignment with the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 and Dubai Urban Plan 2040.

In the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi Sustainable Water Solutions, formerly Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company, received bids for the contract to design, build and operate a planned TSE polishing plant in Al-Wathba earlier this year.

The plant is expected to have a design capacity of 700,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d), with the potential to expand this to 950,000 cm/d in a subsequent phase. The TSE facility will produce water for higher-end applications compared with TSE produced in a standard sewage treatment plant.

In addition to supporting the UAE’s long-term economic and demographic expansion, these water treatment projects also boost the country’s preferred circular carbon economy approach to energy transition.
Jennifer Aguinaldo
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