Water Resources Management

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 1385–1397 | Cite as

Is Desalination Affordable?—Regional Cost and Price Analysis

  • Jadwiga R. ZiolkowskaEmail author


Desalination has proven to be a reliable and efficient water supply option in many countries, especially in times of water scarcity. However, high desalination costs and high prices for desalinated water (twice or three times higher than those from traditional water sources) have been hindering an uptake and the development of desalination in many countries. Applied desalination technology, capital and operational costs, production capacity, water salinity are just a few factors determining the final cost of desalinated water that varies considerably between $1.7–9.5/kgal ($0.45–2.51/m3). The final prices for desalinated water and the related costs for local municipalities are among the most crucial determinants of the overall short- and long-term effectiveness of desalination processes. This paper provides an in-depth analysis on economics of desalination with country specific examples. It depicts a comprehensive picture of cost variability of desalinated water and points out challenges for cost-effective desalination in the future.


Desalination Brackish groundwater Seawater Water management Economic analysis 



The author acknowledges the STARR (State of Texas Advanced Resource Recovery Program) project for providing the desalination data base license. The initial work has been conducted at the University of Texas at Austin. The paper has been prepared and completed at the University of Oklahoma.


  1. Afgan NH, Darwish M, Carvalho MG (1999) Sustainability assessment of desalination plants for water production. Desalination 124(1–3):19–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akgul D, Cakmakci M, Kayaalp N, Koyuncu I (2008) Cost analysis of seawater desalination with reverse osmosis in Turkey. Desalination 220(1–3):123–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alstom, Alstom completes Shoaiba III power plant ahead of schedule (2014) (05/14/2014)
  4. AMTA (American Membrane Technology Association), Membrane Desalination Costs, AMTA (2007)Google Scholar
  5. Australian Government, National Water Commission (2008) Emerging trends in desalination: a review. Waterlines Report Series 9Google Scholar
  6. Barrington DJ, Ho G (2014) Towards zero liquid discharge: the use of water auditing to identify water conservation measures. J Clean Prod 66:571–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baten R, Stummeyer K (2013) How sustainable can desalination be? Desalin Water Treat 51(1–3):44–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker N, Lavee D, Katz D (2010) Desalination and alternative water-shortage mitigation options in Israel: a comparative cost analysis. J Water Resour Protect 2:1042–1056CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. BenJemaa F (2009) Water use and efficiency branch. Water recycling and desalination. Logistics for Deploying Mobile Water Desalination Units, State of California—Department of Water ResourcesGoogle Scholar
  10. Bennett A (2011) Cost effective desalination: innovation continues to lower desalination costs. Filtr Separat 48(4):24–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bennett A (2012) Cost effective desalination: innovation continues to lower desalination costs. (04/29/2014)
  12. Cob SS, Güner FEG, Hofs B, van Spronsen J, Witkamp GJ (2014) Three strategies to treat reverse osmosis brine and cation exchange spent regenerant to increase system recovery. Desalination 344:36–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Colley H, Ajami N (2012) Key issues for desalination in California: cost and financing. Pacific Institute, OaklandGoogle Scholar
  14. Cooley H, Gleick PH, Wolff G (2006) Desalination with a grain of salt. A California perspectiveGoogle Scholar
  15. Crisp G, Swinton EA (2008) Desalination in Australia: a review. Water 35(2):94Google Scholar
  16. Daniels T, Daniels K (2003) The environmental planning handbook for sustainable communities and regions. APA/Planners Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  17., Desalination data base. Global Water Intelligence (2013)
  18. Drouiche N, Ghaffour N, Naceur MW, Mahmoudi H, Ouslimane T (2011) Reasons for the fast growing seawater desalination capacity in Algeria. Water Resour Manage 25(11):2743–2754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Einav R, Harussi K, Perry D (2003) The footprint of the desalination processes on the environment. Desalination 152(1–3):141–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. GBRA (2013) A publication of the Guadelupe-Blanco Water Authority, River RunGoogle Scholar
  21. Ghaffour N (2009) The challenge of capacity-building strategies and perspectives for desalination for sustainable water use in MENA. Desalin Water Treat 5:48–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ghaffour N, Missimer TM, Amy GL (2013) Technical review and evaluation of the economics of water desalination: current and future challenges for better water supply sustainability. Desalination 309:197–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Graves M, Choffel K (2004) Economic siting factors for seawater. Desalination Projects along the Texas Gulf-Coast, Technical Papers, Case Studies, and Desalination Technology Resources. Texas Water Development BoardGoogle Scholar
  24. Greenlee LF, Lawler DF, Freeman BD, Marrot B, Moulin P (2009) Reverse osmosis desalination: water sources, technology, and today’s challenges. Water Res 43:2317–2348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gude VG, Nirmalakhandan N, Deng S (2010) Renewable and sustainable approaches for desalination. Renew Sust Energ Rev 14:2641–2654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. GWI (Global Water Intelligence) (2013) Market profile and desalination markets, 2009–2012 yearbooks and GWI website. (05/23/2014)
  27. Haddad BM (2013) A case for an ecological-economic research program for desalination. Desalination 324:72–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Helfer F, Sahin O, Stewart RA (2014) Bridging the water supply–demand gap in Australia: coupling water demand efficiency with rain-independent desalination supply. Water Resour Manage 1–20. doi: 10.1007/s11269-014-0794-9
  29. IAEA (2013) DEEP 5. Desalination Economic Evaluation Program. IAEA, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  30. Karagiannis IC, Soldatos PG (2008) Water desalination cost literature: review and assessment. Desalination 223:448–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kavvadias KC, Khamis I (2010) The IAEA DEEP desalination economic model: a critical review. Desalination 257:150–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Koyuncu I, Topacik D, Turan M, Celik MS, Sarikaya HZ (2001) Application of the membrane technology to control ammonia in surface water. Water Sci Technol 1(1):117–124Google Scholar
  33. Lapuente E (2012) Full cost in desalination. A case study of the Segura River Basin. Desalination 300:40–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lattemann S, Hopner T (2008) Environmental impact and impact assessment of seawater desalination. Desalination 220(1–3):1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mabrouk AN, Nafey AS, Fath HES (2010) Steam, electricity and water costs evaluation of power-desalination co-generation plants. Desalin Water Treat 22(1–3):56–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mandel M (2012) Water from the sea: the risks and rewards of israel’s huge bet on desalination. (05/14/2014)
  37. Miller JE (2003) Review of water resources and desalination technologies. Available from: Sandia National Laboratories. (05/09/2014)
  38. Muenk F (2008) Ecological and economic analysis of seawater desalination plants. Diploma Thesis, University of Karlsruhe, Institute for Hydromechanics, KarlsruheGoogle Scholar
  39. Pankratz T (2008) Total water cost discussion rages on. Water Desalin Rep 44(34), GWIGoogle Scholar
  40. Pankratz T (2014) Desalination data baseGoogle Scholar
  41. Reddy KV, Ghaffour N (2007) Overview of the cost of desalinated water and costing methodologies. Desalination 205:340–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sadhwani JJ, Veza JM, Santana C (2005) Case studies on environmental impact of seawater desalination. Desalination 185(1–3):1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sauvet-Goichon B (2007) Ashkelon desalination plant—a successful challenge. Desalination 203:75–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sethi S (2007) Desalination product water recovery and concentrate volume minimization (DRAFT). American Water Works Association Research Foundation Project #3030. Carollo Engineers, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of ReclamationGoogle Scholar
  45. Sobhani R, Abahusayn M, Gabelich CJ, Rosso D (2012) Energy footprint analysis of brackish groundwater desalination with zero liquid discharge in inland areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Desalination 291:106–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stanford University (2014) The Colorado river’s salty tears: evaluating the Yuma desalination plant. (05/14/2014)
  47. Tapsuwan S, Burton M, Mankad A, Tucker D, Greenhill M (2014) Adapting to less water: household willingness to pay for decentralised water systems in Urban Australia. Water Resour Manage 28(4):1111–1125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tsiourtis NX (2001) Desalination and the environment. Desalination 141(3):223–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Verdier F (2011) MENA regional water outlook. Part II: desalination using renewable energy. Task 1—desalination potential. Fichtner, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  50. Vince F, Marechal F, Aoustin E, Breant P (2008) Multiobjective optimization of RO desalination plants. Desalination 222(1–3):96–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Voutchkov N (2010) How much does seawater desalination cost? Water Globe Consulting, Texas Innovative WaterGoogle Scholar
  52. Water Technology (2014a) Ras Al Khair desalination plant, Saudi Arabia. (05/14/2014)
  53. Water Technology (2014b) Shoaiba, Saudi Arabia. (05/14/2014)
  54. Water Technology (2014c) Ashkelon, Israel. (05/14/2014)
  55. Wetterau G (2010) Cost trends in desalination. Border Governor’s Binational Desalination Conference; May 26–27, 2010Google Scholar
  56. Wittholz MK, O’Neill BK, Colby CB, Lewis D (2008) Estimating the cost of desalination plants using a cost database. Desalination 229(1–3):10–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Younos T (2005) The economics of desalination. J Contemp Water Res Educ 132:39–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Yun TI, Gabelich C, Cox MR, Mofidi AA, Lesan R (2006) Reducing costs for large-scale desalting plants using largediameter, reverse osmosis membranes. Desalination 189:141–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zhou Y, Tol RSJ (2005) Evaluating the costs of desalination and water transport. Water Resour Res 41(1–10):269–287Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental SustainabilityThe University of OklahomaNormanUSA

Personalised recommendations