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Can Desalination Be A Sustainable Technology for Dryland Countries Who Seek To Mitigate Climate Change?

Can Desalination Be A Sustainable Technology for Dryland Countries Who Seek To Mitigate Climate Change?

Prof. Alon Tal & Dr. Michael Roth
Tel Aviv, University, Israel

Desalination has proven to be a transformative technology for dryland countries that suffer from chronic water shortages. Given the extraordinary proliferation of seawater desalination plants around the world, Israel offers an instructive case study. It is a country that for a decade has relied on desalination for most of its municipal water supply. This reliance on sea water for meeting the country’s hydrological needs is anticipated to increase over the next decades as the local population is set to double. The presentation details the extraordinary environmental benefits that desalination has brought the country. But during an age when stabilizing atmospheric concentration of carbon has become axiomatic among environmental policy makers, is desal a sustainable alternative in light of the planet’s climate change crisis? Indeed, there are many environmental impacts associated with desalination technologies, but the one area of particular concern involves its considerable carbon footprint. This lecture will offer a brief description of Israel’s desal experience with a focus on the future capacity that will be required and its associated energy requirements and emissions. Because Israel’s desalination facilities are among the most energy-efficient in the world, these projections can offer a “best-case-scenario” for other countries who are considering the transition to reliance on seawater for municipal or even agricultural water supply. The presentation will seek to provide answers to questions such as: Will the anticipated doubling in desal capacity undermine national efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions? Can Israel’s desalination plants become more energy efficient? What would be a responsible energy component for a dryland country’s desalination strategy. And given the growing scarcity of water on the planet, what are the implications of desalination for global mitigation efforts?