Saudi Arabia is a country of paradoxes, not only in its history and culture but even in its natural resources. In its substrata lies the 18 per cent of all the world’s proven oil reserves, the largest anywhere in the world (Revenue Watch Institute, 2011), and because of this the country is assured of a steady stream of petrodollars that has the potential to make it one of the world’s wealthiest economies. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is situated in one of the world’s most arid regions, with little surface water, very little rainfall, and increasing desertification which is gradual loss of once arable and fertile land to encroaching aridity (TeachMideast, 2011). Thus while it is abundant in the world’s most expensive natural resource, Saudi Arabia is however sorely lacking in that commodity essential to life and plentiful in nearly every other region of the planet – fresh water.
Through the years the process of desalination has enabled countries in arid regions to obtain potable water from brackish or seawater. In Saudi Arabia this is being done today on a large scale through oil powered desalination plants. While the use of fossil fuels poses no present concerns for this oil-rich country, government officials, scientists and policy makers are all aware that the supply of oil is not inexhaustible, and eventually shall be depleted. At such time, the country should have been able to build the capability to desalinate water using sustainable sources of energy such as solar radiation, which this desert region has a limitless supply of. Presently, the country is unable to accomplish solar powered desalination on a large scale, and many are pessimistic that this could be done. Statement of the Research Objective: This dissertation aims to explore the viability of harnessing solar energy for the purpose of large-scale desalination of water in Saudi Arabia. Research questions: In order to satisfactorily achieve the research objective, the dissertation shall seek the answers to the following research questions: 1. What is the currently prevailing situation of large-quantity water desalination in Saudi Arabia? 2. What is the rate of water consumption of Saudi Arabia’s population, and what are the chances of a projected shortfall of potable water in the event of the closure of its oil powered desalination plants? 3. How is large-scale solar powered desalination technology described, and what is its feasibility in Saudi Arabia? Q1: Currently prevailing desalination situation An Overview of Desalination Process in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of the desalinated water, accounting for at least 30 per cent of the total world output. The Kingdom has invested nearly $25 billion in the last 80 years developing the technology for desalination, and in building and operating the desalination plants. Presently, there are some 30 desalination plants in the country, 27 of which supply drinking water to the principal urban centers and industrial locations via a