With climate change affecting most of the globe and many countries experiencing droughts and water shortages, and contamination of drinking water due to over-pumping of groundwater sources.
This has led many countries, especially those in warmer climes, to look to desalination as a means of providing more potable water for their citizens, and for a while this looked like a good idea. Unfortunately, due to growing too big too fast, many of the erstwhile facilities now sit idle, cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance and contractual charges annually.
This has not stopped the investment in desalination plants however, and many countries, including India, China, and various regions in the Middle East and Africa are currently looking into the feasibility of installing desalination plants in coastal cities.
It seems that the problem with investing in massive desalination projects is the same as that of investing in mega infrastructure projects in mining, coal production and combustion, hydropower generation, oil development, pipeline construction, and shipping – conditions change. Because such projects generally take so many years to complete, the market, ecological, and social conditions that existed at the beginning of a project are generally markedly different by the tie the project is completed and ready to go into operation.
This has seen many mega projects to develop, process, and transport natural resources, especially those that demand ample freshwater supplies, failing on six continents and billions of dollars being lost as a result.
While desalination plants may be a great alternative source of freshwater, it is not the most popular with everyone. Each cubic meter of seawater that is converted to fresh water requires 3 – 5 kilowatt hours of electricity, making desalination the most expensive source of fresh water; it is also a fountain of climate-changing emissions.
Many individuals fear that the construction price tag of desalination plants and ongoing operating expenses will drain funds needed for investment in other public projects. Ecologists also worry about the plants’ energy consumption, which can cause hydrologic instability.