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Is Desalination Affordable?—Regional Cost and Price Analysis


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Jadwiga R. Ziolkowska.

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Ziolkowska, J.R. Is Desalination Affordable?—Regional Cost and Price Analysis. Water Resour Manage 29, 1385–1397 (2015).

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  • Desalination
  • Brackish groundwater
  • Seawater
  • Water management
  • Economic analysis