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Evaluating the costs of desalination and water transport

Listed author(s):
  • Zhou Yuan
  • Richard S.J. Tol


    (Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin)

Many regions of the world are facing formidable freshwater scarcity. Although there is substantial scope for economizing on the consumption of water without affecting its service level, the main response to water scarcity has been to increase the supply. To a large extent, this is done by transporting water from places where it is abundant to places where it is scarce. At a smaller scale, and without a lot of public and political attention, people have started to tap into the sheer limitless resource of desalinated water. This study looks at the development of desalination and its costs over time. The unit costs of desalinated water for five main processes are evaluated, followed by regressions to analyze the main influencing factors to the costs. The unit costs for all processes have fallen considerably over the years. This study suggests that a cost of 1 $/m3 for seawater desalination and 0.6 $/m3 for brackish water would be feasible today. The costs will continue to decline in the future as technology progresses. In addition, a literature review on the costs of water transport is conducted in order to estimate the total cost of desalination and the transport of desalinated water to selected water stress cities. Transport costs range from a few cents per cubic meter to over a dollar. A 100 m vertical lift is about as costly as a 100 km horizontal transport (0.05-0.06$/m3). Transport makes desalinated water prohibitively expensive in highlands and continental interiors, but not elsewhere.

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Paper provided by Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University in its series Working Papers with number FNU-41.

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Length: 16 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2004
Date of revision: Dec 2004
Publication status: Published, Water Resources Research, 41 (3), W03003
Handle: RePEc:sgc:wpaper:41
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  1. Heng-Chi Lee & Bruce McCarl & Uwe Schneider & Chi-Chung Chen, 2007. "Leakage and Comparative Advantage Implications of Agricultural Participation in Greenhouse Gas Emission Mitigation," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 12(4), pages 471-494, May.
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