UAE Solar Power and Clean Water Supply

Vasundhara Singh
May 27, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Projected Population of MENA Countries. (Source: V. Singh. After Trieb and Müller-Steinhagen. [1])

Despite being an oil-producing economy, the United Arab Emirates has taken significant measures in order to build a world class solar program. This is motivated in part because of the demand of freshwater far exceeding supply in the Middle East at large, and UAE naturally being affected by this issue. While the efforts are significant, however, solar power makes up a very small portion of the source of energy in the UAE. Nevertheless, solar offers a great alternative for the UAE moving forward given that they will one day naturally run out of traditional methods of energy and the more immediate issue of freshwater demand that can be accomplished by large scale seawater desalination through solar energy. Nevertheless, distillation has proved to be an extremely energy and cost consuming process in the past, which is a potential problem moving forward.

Seawater Desalination

A central problem in the UAE right now is a lack of access to clean water and sheer exploitation of what is available. Given the rise in economic activity and population, more water is needed than ever before and lack of access looms larger every year as demand is expected to double in the next 50 years for all MENA (Middle East and North African) countries (Fig. 1). This deficit is leading to complete over-use of ground-water that exists dangerously close to depletion levels in the foreseeable future if significant measures are not taken. One promising measure is using solar energy to desalinate seawater.

Moving Forward

This research makes sense because of the growing population of the UAE nations: According to analysis conducted by the UN, and as Fig. 1 shows, the population of the total MENA region is anticipated to grow to 600 million people, or double, by 2050. [1] Given that most of these are oil-producing nations, the key now for them will be to inculcate fast and effective implementation of the new proposed strategies by the governments of the respective countries. Concentrating solar power (CSP) offers a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels for large scale seawater desalination and can help solve the problem but market introduction must start immediately in order to achieve the necessary freshwater production rates in time. [1] Various UAE countries have worked towards implementing similar measures, including but not limited to Dubai's Clean Energy Strategy. [2]

© Vasundhara Singh. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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.


[1] F. Trieb and H Müller-Steinhagen, "Concentrating Solar Power For Seawater Desalination in the Middle East and North Africa," Desalination 220, 165 (2008).

[2] A. DiPaola, "Dubai Doubling Size of Power Plant to Make Cheapest Solar Energy," Bloomberg, 15 Jan 15.