In this next segment of the interview, HP takes us through his view of the future market demand for fresh water with a particular emphasis on areas which ERI can address. We discover in dismay, that the water supply of California is likely to dry up in the next 40 years due to global warming.
SM: Reverse Ismosis desalination seems a lot more critical at this point given the energy requirements that India and China are putting on the world. The pressure that it creates on the Middle East, and the opportunity cost of selling the energy to those large economies as opposed to use this energy for their own thermal desalination. HP: Indeed Sramana. But you don’t have to go overseas to look at the critical aspects of desalination. It’s enough to just go to California where you actually see that we are part of a private public partnership last year called the Affordable Desalination Collaboration.
We demonstrated that we could now, in California, desalinate a cubic meter of water for a total of 1.58 kilowatt hours. That number doesn’t tell you anything but let me put that in a context of how affordable that has become.
Colorado today spends about 1.9 kilowatt hours just to pump the state water project water around to California. In addition to that you spend about 1.6 kilowatt hours just to slush the Colorado River water around in California. When you look at all the energy being consumed by California today just by pumping water around, you realize that it is actually cheaper to use desalination.
SM: From the costal reserves? HP: Yes from the coastal reserves. Call it the ocean. So there are about 26 major projects along the coast of California. I think it was yesterday that the Spanish company called Prodesa (they have now changed their name to Oceano) was awarded the Carlsbad Plant that will be built between L.A. and San Diego. That’s the first major large scale desalination plant along the coast of California. So it’s happening here as well.
SM: And you anticipate that there are going to be a lot more plants beyond the Carlsbad plant along the California coast? HP: Yes, I think so. There are two aspects here. One, California by and large, is dependent on snow from the Sierra Mountains for its water supply. If you look into the future, at least the various predictions I have had the chance to look at, the snow melt of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are expected to be reduced by 80% within the next 40 years.
SM: Oh my god. HP: Right, and there is no other reliable source of future water than desalination. Add to that the expected increase in the population of California. Currently there are about 34-35 million people and it’s expected to increase by 10 or 15 or 20 million people over the next 40 years. So where are we going to get water from? I think it is likely that it will come from the ocean. But then you have one final thing: when you add water to the equation, you also add economic growth. So there are also forces opposed to putting desalination along the California coast.
Social common sense, awareness of the coastal sensitivity for economic growth, means that a lot of people are not happy with economic growth. So by saying no to desalination plants you are also able to limit economic growth in various areas. So you have these opposing forces.