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2.11 Mediterranean-Qattara solar-hydro and pumped-storage development

Two solar-hydro and pumped-storage projects are being considered, in Israel and Egypt. The Israeli plan involves constructing a long pipeline/tunnel between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea (400 m below sea level) to exploit the differences in elevation between these two bodies of water. The Egyptian plan involves transfer of water from the Mediterranean to the Qattara depression (a basin in the Western desert of about 26,000 km, the floor of which is 120 m below sea level). Both plans involve an initial development stage in which the basins are filled with water from the Mediterranean Sea up to a certain design level that will be maintained later by the transfer of water to replace the amount evaporated. A very similar type of solar-hydro scheme has also been studied for the Assal lake in Djibouti, which has the shortest conduit, with a length of about 15 km from the Red Sea to the Assal depression.

This particular type of hydroelectric project, generally known as solarhydro, would be made possible by the combination of such factors as the existence of a vast depression at a distance not too far from the sea in a region with characteristically scarce rainfall and a resulting high degree of evaporation. The world's five deepest depressions are shown in table 2.11.

The Mediterranean-Qattara solar-hydro scheme was the first project of its kind for developing solar-hydro energy in a large desert depression in a hotarid climate. The scheme would include pumped storage to cover peak power demand, which is becoming increasingly important owing to the forced reduction of hydroelectric power generation on the Nile in the 1980s. Pumped storage of seawater is further examined in this section to evaluate the development alternatives for pumped-storage schemes in Egypt.

Table 2.11 World's deepest depressions

  Location Lowest elevation (m) Area below sea level (km) Distance from sea or ocean (km)
Dead Sea Israel, Jordan -401 3,800 72
Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) Israel, Syria -212 - 50
Assal Djibouti -174 80 15
Turfan China -154 5,000 1,500
Quattara Egypt -133 44,000 56

2.11.1 The scheme

The scheme would involve flooding a natural depression in the Western desert (the Qattara) through a canal or tunnel from the Mediterranean Sea, 56 km away (fig. 2.52). At its lowest point, the depression is 134 m below sea level. The plan envisages generating power utilizing the difference in elevation to the lake that will eventually be formed, whose surface will be 60 m below sea level, with an area of 19,500 km. The scheme could supply 670 MW of basic load without pumped storage (WPDC 1978).

2.11.2 Topography of the Qattara depression

The Qattara depression is located in the north-western part of Egypt and is the world's fifth deepest natural depression. The depression is bounded to the north and west by deep escarpments but becomes comparatively flat towards the south and the east (fig. 2.53). The lowest point is found at a level of 133 m below sea level. The depression has a length of about 300 km at sea level, a maximum width of 145 km, and an area of 19,500 km. The northern edge of the escarpment is bounded by a hilly ridge with an elevation of about 200 m above sea level, in which the shortest distance from the Mediterranean Sea is 56 km.

2.11.3 Previous studies

The utilization of the Qattara depression to develop hydroelectric power was first suggested by the Berlin geographer Professor Penk in 1912, and later by Dr. Ball in 1927. Dr. Ball studied in particular the possibility of utilizing it for hydroelectric purposes by the formation of lakes at final levels of 50 m, 60 m, and 70 m below sea level, to which the corresponding surface areas were 13,500,12,100, and 8,600 km,. Moreover, he indicated the most convenient water inflow routes (lines D, E, and F in fig. 2.53) with reference to the formation of the lakes. After examining the effect of climatic changes, evaporation, seepage, minor transmission losses, and the lowest cost per kW installed, he showed that the most convenient solutions were those relating to lakes at 50 and 60 m below sea level. From geological and topographical considerations, he finally recommended-50 m below sea level with the supply system along route D.

Fig. 2.52 Qattara depression electric power supply system

Dr. Ball, moreover, anticipated the possibility of using a power surplus during the period of off-peak demand to pump some part of the inflowing water into a high-level reservoir on top of the escarpment and to use the 200-m head to generate power to meet peak-load requirements (Martino 1973).

Fig. 2.53 Qattara depression and hydro-solar development scheme (Source: Basseler 1975)

2.11.4 Pumped-storage application

Egypt's power supply is heavily dependent on the Nile River, including 9,801 GWh from Aswan high dam power station, 53.2% of the total power production of 18,430 GWh in 1980. After the Nile hydroelectric development, a series of steam power stations have been constructed in northern Egypt such as Ismailia, Abu Qir, Kafr el-Dawar, El-Suezu, Shoubra el-Kheima, Damanhour, and Al-Kuraimat in the 1980s (fig. 2.52). A number of gasturbine power stations have been installed at El-Suif, El-Mahmodia, and Damanhour to cover the deficit in peak generation capacity. In the long term, Egypt's power development is expected to be based on nuclear power generation, of which the installed capacity is scheduled to be extended up to 8,400 MW by the year 2000.

Water levels in the Nile have been falling for nine years, which has restricted generation at Aswan. The power house at Aswan accounted for 40% or less of national power supplies at the end of the 1980s, but the production of energy from the waters of the Nile River is, in fact, subordinated to the demand for water for agriculture, and this does not correspond generally to the demand for electric energy. Moreover, the firm electric power that these waters can produce is used mainly in industrial zones in the Nile valley, and there is only a fluctuating energy supply available for the northern industries.

2.11.5 Conjunctive operation of solar-hydro and pumped storage

A project in the region of Qattara is even more significant for pumped storage than for base load (see fig. 2.54) to satisfy the peak-load requirements of an electricity supply system that would be aimed mostly at the northern region of Egypt (WPDC 1978). Two development alternatives, either by tunnel or by canal, were examined in 1975, based on combined hydro-solar and pumped storage with a total installed capacity of 2,400 MW (Bassler 1975).

In the tunnel plan, the hydro-solar plant would be based on the evaporation from the lake surface when it rises to a design level such as 60 m below sea level. The theoretical hydro-potential at an equilibrium point of 60 m below sea level is estimated to be 315 MW, assuming a water surface area of 12,100 km, evaporation of 1.41 m per year, specific weight of the seawater of 1.02782, and an effective differential head of water at 57 m. The installed capacity of 315 MW was estimated by assuming twin tunnels with a maximum flow discharge of 656 m/sec (328 x 2 = 656), which would require approximately 35 years to fill the lake to 62.5 m below sea level.

Fig. 2.54 Schematic profile of the Mediterranean-Qatiara hydro-solar scheme with pumped storage (Source: Basseler 1975)

The pumped-storage portion was estimated to be 2,085 MW (2,400 - 315 = 2,085 MW). For this an additional discharge of 936 m/ see would be required from the upper reservoir, assuming the specific weight of Mediterranean Sea water of 1.02782, pumping efficiency of 84.3%, and a differential head of water at 262 m. The upper basin would be situated in a natural depression at an elevation of 188.0 m above sea level with a maximum capacity of about 45 million m. The design volume of the upper reservoir was estimated to be 15.16 million m per day, assuming 4.5 hours of peak operation per day.

In the canal plan, nuclear blasting was a given condition for excavating the open canal with a total length of 60 km. The construction programme for the nuclear-blasted canal scheme was estimated as outlined in table 2.12. The plan could have doubled the hydro-solar capacity by 15 years after the commencement of taking water from the Mediterranean Sea, but the nuclear method for open blasting, which was proposed in the 1970s, could have created serious environmental and socio-psychological problems and was put aside. Today excavation by a tunnel-boring machine would be practical and economical in the un-saturate rocks of the Neogene Tertiary.

2.11.6 The Galala-Red Sea seawater pumped-storage scheme

Planning for new thermal or nuclear power stations in Egypt has encouraged the Electric Authority to build a pumped-storage plant.

Table 2.12 Construction programme for Mediterranean-Qattara scheme (nuclear-blasted canal)

Stage Type of plant Capacity (MW) Construction time (years) Period of operation (years)
1 solar-hydro 670 7 1st-10th
2 solar-hydro 1,200 3 11th-15th
3 solar-hydro + pumped storage 2,400 4 16th

Fig. 2.55 Schematic profile of the Galala-Red Sea pumped-storage scheme

In 1989 a feasibility study was carried out for a 600 MW seawater pumpedstorage scheme in the north Galala plateau, 55 km south of Suez (fig. 2.55). The scheme would utilize seawater pumped directly to a natural basin 587 m above sea level with a storage capacity of 8.2 million m (WPDC 1989a). In comparison with the Qattara scheme, the Galala-Red Sea scheme would have two advantages: (1) it would avoid the substantial capital cost of an intake tunnel or canal with a length of 60-80 km; (2) there are likely to be fewer environmental problems with the artificial lake.

The Galala project would be the world's first seawater pumped storage scheme. Some technical problems, such as corrosion of the pipes and the turbine system, remain to be solved, but this unique application of nonconventional hydro-power would be marginally feasible in an arid region where the peak power deficit is substantial. The same type of seawater pumped-storage scheme is contemplated in Israel, with two development alternatives at Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea (WPDC 1989b). For further details, including application studies of seawater pumped-storage schemes with hydro-powered RO desalination for hybrid co-generation, see sections 5.4 and 5.6.

2.12 Concluding remarks

2.12.1 Remarks on the review study

This study was initiated to review the problems and constraints of waterresources development and management in the arid zone, including nonconventional water-resources development alternatives as summarized below.

In the Middle East the potential for the development of renewable water resources is limited, owing to the scarce rainfall with very high potential evaporation.

MULTINATIONAL RIVER DEVELOPMENT. There are two major water resources issues in the world's large river developments in the arid region: the quantity issue in inter-state water allocation, and the quality issue of salinity problems. Various and serious salinity problems have been major issues in the basin management of large rivers since the mid-twentieth century, including the Indus River in South-West Asia, the Tigris, Euphrates, and Jordan Rivers in the Middle East, the Nile River in North Africa, and the Colorado River in south-western Arizona in the United States of America.

RIPARIAN ISSUES. Many countries of the Middle East, except for those in the Arabian peninsula and Libya, depend on three major river basins: the Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, and the Jordan and Litani. Given that these rivers do not respect national boundaries and that those states located upstream have obvious advantages both political and economic over those downstream, the potential for conflict over water is great.

Salinity control in the rivers is needed to protect the quality of the environment in the river system and to maximize the quantity of water available for downstream irrigation or other water supply. Reverse osmosis desalination of brackish water will be a key technique for sustainable basin management in the twenty-first century.

Owing to increasing demand and limited recharge potential for conventional renewable fresh groundwater resources, many states in the Middle East have already over-exploited the sustainable yield. Careful groundwater management will be essential to sustain further development.

NON-RENEWABLE GROUNDWATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT. A vast amount of the non-renewable or fossil groundwater is trapped in the Palaeozoic to Mesozoic-Neogene (Nubian) sandstones that underlie wide areas of the Arabian peninsula and the eastern Sahara desert in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Libya. The dominance and importance of this resource will be paramount in water-resource planning and strategy in many countries, especially Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.

Non-renewable or fossil groundwater resources should be saved as a strategic reserve except for emergency or short-term use.

DESALINATION OF SEAWATER. Desalination of seawater is likely to be required more and more to make up deficiencies in supplies of water from other sources.

The prevailing multi-stage flash desalination will be replaced by processes requiring lower capital and lower operating costs such as low-pressure types of reverse osmosis. The role of the ocean, which contains the largest water reserves on earth, will be important for sustaining water-resources development in the twenty-first century.

SOLAR-HYDRO DEVELOPMENT. The Mediterranean-Dead Sea canal scheme should now be reassessed in the joint development.

Groundwater-hydro and solar-hydro are likely to be a strategic priority to save fossil energy and the global environment with economic feasibility.

Strategic priority should be given to reverse-osmosis desalination, including research into hydro-powered co-generating applications, which will result in developing more low-energy-dependent membranes with significant cost reductions.

Water conservation and sustainable water-resources management will be key measures to sustain the economic development of the arid states, and may even include the cutting of part of the national water supply from non-renewable sources. The conservation approach has to be performed in parallel with developing non-conventional water resources, taking into account new developments in the technology of desalination, wastewater treatment, and water-saving techniques.

Water-resources planning studies in arid regions, especially in developing countries in the Middle East, must consider the following strategic development alternatives:

>> water conservation, including the diversion of existing water sys tems from one use to another;

>> maintaining fossil or non-renewable groundwater resources at strategic reserves, with the exception of emergency or short-time use for specified purposes;

>> non-conventional water-resources development, including desalination and reuse of treated sewage;

>> inter-state water transfer or importation.

Priority will have to be given to domestic water-resources development, management, and conservation, including non-conventional measures, rather than reliance on importation from outside countries. Inter-state riparian issues of water allocation have to be resolved in a context of basin master planning.

Water-resources planning, especially master planning for inter-state basin development, must include recognition of techno-political issues. It is suggested that techno-political feasibility should be evaluated and resolved in the context of a master plan. For further details on techno-politics see sections 5.5 and 5.6.

2.12.2 Marginal waters as potential non-conventional water resources

After reviewing the problems and constraints of water-resources development and management, the study focuses on marginal waters as non-conventional water resources in arid to semi-arid regions. Almost all the fresh and renewable natural water resources in the rivers, lakes, and aquifers in the arid zone, which are referred to as "conventional" water or "traditional" water, have already been exploited or will be fully developed by the end of the twentieth century. Furthermore, all major rivers in the arid zone have already been seriously contaminated by accumulated salt in the return flow from irrigated land, and severe water shortages are being felt in many urban centres as populations continue to grow. After completing the exploitation of renewable water resources, we may have only limited options to sustain water development, including:

>> making more efficient use of available water supplies,

>> diverting water from one use to another,

>> developing marginal waters as non-conventional water resources, >> importing fresh water from neighbouring countries,

>> importing food commodities as a proxy for water (e.g., 1 ton of wheat = 1,200 tons of water).

Table 2.13 Conventional and oon-conventional water resources categorized by hydrological system

System Conventional Non-conventional (marginal)
Atmosphere Rainfall Cloud seeding, or artificial rain
Surface water Rivers
Treated sewage effluents
Return flow with accumulated salts from irrigation drainage
Urban stone drainage
Wadi run-off
Playa lake water
Groundwater Renewable groundwater Non-renewable groundwater (fresh)
Non-renewable groundwater (saline)
Desalinated brackish groundwater
Artificial recharge
Oceanic   Desalinated seawater

Marginal waters may occur in any category of hydrological system- atmospheric, surface water, groundwater, and ocean systems-as shown in table 2.13.

Potential applications in the atmospheric system include cloud seeding, or artificial rain, which is possible in some very limited areas in high mountain ranges such as the Anti-Lebanon where winter precipitation is 1,000 mm or more (Kelly 1974).

Marginal waters in the surface-water system such as waste water and irrigation return flow are major sources of water reclamation. The probability that the results will be economically feasible is high, but this will depend on advanced waste-water-treatment technologies to be applied in the twenty-first century. The increasing demand for water supply, especially in urban centres, may create an increasing potential for water reclamation. Such water will be used mainly for secondary purposes such as garden/landscape irrigation and irrigation of specific crops (Wesner and Herndon 1990).

Marginal waters in the groundwater system include non-renewable or fossil groundwater, brackish groundwater, and artificial recharge from surface waters and treated sewage effluents. Artificially recharged groundwater is a marginal water in the arid zone, and may be involved in conjunctive surface-groundwater uses.

Brackish groundwaters with higher salinities such as 2,000-10,000 mg of TDS per litre have not been developed except for use in blending with fresh surface water or distilled water from desalination plants. In the arid zone, however, the reserve potential of brackish groundwaters in deep aquifers is great as compared with fresh groundwaters in shallow aquifer systems near the recharging area. RO desalination of brackish water has been only marginally feasible in the 1980s, but it is becoming more cost-effective and is regarded as an energy-conserving measure for developing water resources in the arid region. It will be a key technology for non-conventional waterresources development in the arid countries.

An extremely slight amount of seawater is being used for water supply through desalination plants. Seawater desalination has been practiced mainly in oil-rich desert countries of the Arabian Gulf where conventional renewable water resources are scarce. In the 1970s, largescale seawater desalination projects were considered that would be both technically and economically feasible as water-supply alternatives today (Buras and Darr 1979). Cost constraints remain, but there is no doubt that seawater will be the ultimate water resource in the arid zone, coupled with food imports as a proxy for water. Current innovative research in desalination technology, especially on reverse osmosis membranes, is changing the cost environment by reducing both capital costs and operation and maintenance costs over the conventional MSF process which has been used so far almost exclusively in the Middle East states (see Appendix A).

Potential marginal waters as non-conventional water resources thus comprise primarily brackish waters, seawater, and reclaimed urban waste waters. These are the keys to developing water resources in the twenty-first century, taking into account that almost all the arid states in the Middle East are completing or depleting the development of their conventional water resources.

The cost and viability of technology are the key factors in the development of non-conventional water resources. Desalination of brackish water can provide a relatively reliable source of water for costs ranging from US$0.25 to US$1.00 per m in the mid-1980s and is becoming even more cost effective by the development of low-pressure (low energy) types of RO membranes. Seawater desalination and water transport by tanker may provide water for costs of US$1.25 to US$8.00 per m (DTCD 1985). The reuse of waste water gives a lower quality water at the cheapest price, while weather modification has the potential to provide a low-cost but relatively unreliable source of water and technology for it.

Table 2.14 Hydro-potential and thermal-energy applications in water-resource systems

System Potential-energy applications Thermal-energy applications
Surface water Hydro-power
Pumped storage
Reclaimed waste water
Stream treat pump
Groundwater Groundwater-hydro Aquifer heat exchange
Seawater Solar-hydro
Pumped storage
Tidal power
Solar pond
Ocean thermal-energy conversion

2.12.3 Applications in hydro-power and co-generation developments

The use of marginal waters should not be limited to exploiting water for municipal and industrial water supply and irrigation. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, worldwide attention was focused on the energy crisis and the need to minimize or reduce world energy consumption to sustain both human life and the global environment. The application of non-conventional water resources development with cogeneration of thermal and hydro-power energy conversion may be used (1) to reduce capital investments, (2) to cut power-supply costs, and (3) to contribute to saving precious energy. Table 2.14 lists possible measures to develop hydro-potential and thermal energy in a waterresources system. Co-generation applications of seawater pumpedstorage schemes with hydro-powered RO desalination are discussed in section 5.6.

2.12.4 integration of marginal waters in national water master plans

This study has aimed to identify techno-political development alternatives for marginal waters as non-conventional water resources. These development alternatives are likely to be integrated in nationwide and/or multinational-level water master plans.

The study is focused on the development and management of saline water resources, including desalination by reverse osmosis with appli cations of co-generation alternatives, and suggests that marginal waters produced by RO desalination will play an increasingly important role in the twenty-first century's water-resources planning in the arid countries in the Middle East. It is not intended, however, to suggest that the RO process will necessarily be the only or best one in the future, taking into account potential progress in research on and the development of other new technologies.

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