Pipe Parity Analysis of Seawater Desalination in the United States: Exploring Costs, Energy, and Reliability via Case Studies and Scenarios of Emerging Technology
As climate change-induced variables exacerbate water scarcities, the use of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) membrane desalination technology for treating seawater could potentially provide a long-term drought-proof source of drinking water. This study carried out a technoeconomic assessment (TEA) for three SWRO desalination plants in the U.S. and one in Israel to set baselines for the cost and energy consumption for seawater desalination. In addition, a breakeven curve for implementing SWRO desalination was estimated in relation to the cost of water conservation measures to meet drought-induced reduction of the traditional water supply. The results show that the cost of SWRO water production scales with the plant capacity while energy intensity is not dramatically different across the plants. The higher cost in some U.S. plants is due to high capital investment, including land acquisition and permitting. Variations in plant capacity utilization have the greatest impact on the levelized cost of water (LCOW) over the plant service life, suggesting the importance of reducing fouling and maintenance-related downtime. Scenario analysis of fixed labor cost reduction through process automation indicates investments in automation and sensing technology could result in long-term savings. Breakeven analysis shows the decision to adopt SWRO is highly dependent on the local cost associated with water conservation to meet water supply reduction. Moreover, a small reduction in SWRO cost can influence a shift toward the adoption of SWRO over water conservation measures. Incorporation of future water demand, water conservation potential, and water stress data around the nation indicates SWRO desalination could be an important contributor to the future municipal drinking water portfolio in the U.S.