|Fig. 1: Planned Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal route. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
As the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea has tempted scientists and politicians for its potential hydroelectric power generation capabilities. At over 400 meters below sea level, harnessing the gravitational potential energy of water flowing to the Dead Sea from nearby bodies of water Red Sea was proposed as early as 1902.  Geographically, Israel's presence at the heart of the Middle East implies that discussions surrounding energy are part of Israel's ethos. After the 1973 Oil Crisis, Israel began to investigate alternative energy sources. Canal projects to the Dead Sea as means of harvesting energy and delivering water to the dry regions of the country were proposed but dismissed on the grounds of the energy potential being negligible.
As the water stress in Israel and its neighbors became more drastic and the Dead Sea's water level continued to recede at an alarming rate, the potential of resolving both of these issues with one solution was actualized. In late 2013, the Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian authorities agreed to begin the first phase of planning a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, known as the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit/Canal (see Fig. 1). Although energy generation is a fringe benefit to this project, it is nonetheless an important factor that has been an important consideration and will continue to be when construction begins.
The primary goals of the canal are to desalinize Red Sea water thereby providing potable water to Jordan and to use the excess water to replenish the Dead Sea. In the 1960's, Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the main source of inflow for the Dead Sea. It is estimated that the total inflow to the Dead Sea has been reduced from around 1250 million cubic meters (MCM) per year in 1950 to around 260 MCM per year in 2010.  The Dead Sea's depth has also shrunk by 30M in that time.  Understandably, Jordan and Israel are amongst the nations with the highest water stress levels in the world. It is hoped that these desalination efforts would produce 850 MCM per year for the region.  Desalination is a process that requires a large amount of energy. Its maximum efficiency is about 16 kWh/kgal, an efficiency that has an inverse relationship with the salinity of the water.  The Red Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, with salinities ranging from 3.6% to 4.1% (the average oceanic salinity is about 3.5%), so this effort will require a lot of energy. Perhaps most importantly, the canal has been labeled the "Peace Conduit," as it will be a manifestation of an unprecedented cooperation in the region. While this is auxiliary to the tangible benefits of the canal, it is yet another important impetus behind it's construction.
The water intake source at the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea will be pumped to an elevation of 220m then redirected a distance of about 174km to the Dead Sea. The total elevation of the canal will be about 650m. The desalinized water will pass through various hydroelectric plants that will work to replenish the energy consumed by the desalination, mitigating overall energy consumption. A feasibility study conducted by WorldBank estimated that the overall energy balance would be -2530 GWh/year in 2020.  Based on the energy consumption of a similar desalination plant located in Ashkelon, Israel, desalination costs about 16Wh/gallon of water.  At 850 MCM there would be a net energy usage of -3592 GWh/year without energy recovery. The difference between these net losses suggests that the hydropower plants will restore about 30% of the energy used to desalinize the water.
Slated to begin construction in 2018 and finish by 2021, the project is estimate to cost $10 billion.
© Josh Lange. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 K. Donnelly, "The Red Sea-Dead Sea Project Update," The World's Water (Island Press, 2014).
 G. Link, "Red Sea - Dead Sea Canal and the Feasibility Study of the World Bank," Global Nature Fund, December 2013.
 J. Sherer, "Energy Cost of Desalination," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2010.