One billion people lack access to safe drinking water in the developing world and up to 10 million people die annually due to diseases caused by dirty water, the United Nations said. Water, similar with energy in the late 1970s, will probably become the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world in the 21st century. By 2025 3 billion people in at least sixty five nations will experience serious water shortages. Annual global demand for water is growing by between 5 and 10%.
Water is likely to figure as a national security issue for many countries in the twenty first century. Lack of water can have profound economic and military consequences. To deal with these issues, a World Commission on Water for the 21st Century has been established.
In a recent speech to the Second World Water Forum in The Hague, (March 22, 2000) James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank said ' Investment in water will have to double over the next 25 years from $70 billion today. The World Bank currently lends about $3 billion a year to water projects. Its total portfolio stands at $20 billion”.
Currently, 13,600 desalination plants in over 120 countries produce 26 million cubic meters of fresh water/day. $25 billion in capital investment has been spent on desalination over the last 25 years, since desalination technology became commercially viable. Desalination facilities operate in Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, the Caribbean, Cape Verde, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, India, China, Japan, and Australia, for a total of 126 nations scattered across the globe. Global investment in desalination plants for the next 5 years is estimated to escalate at $20 billion.
The desalination industry is dominated by two technologies: multi stage flash (MSF) and reverse osmosis (RO) and to less extent by vapor compression (VC). The forms of energy used in desalination are primarily electricity and heat and the total requirements depend on the salinity and temperature of the feed water, the desired quality of the water produced, and the desalting technology used. Reliance on energy from the power grid is not a valid long term option for a country like Greece (Lion Energy’s target market) for which the quality of environment is imperative. The obvious solution are solar desalination plants.
Demand for drinking water is the highest in islands, coastal and arid areas. A large proportion of world population (70 %) lives within 80 km of the coastline. and much of the population within this zone depends on water: 1) imported from the interior 2) from groundwater and 3) desalinated ocean water. As populations and accompanying demands for water supplies increase these coastal communities must turn to the seas and oceans for drinking water.
In most countries around the world, desalination becomes necessary even for fresh or underground water, due to the increased toxicity caused by agricultural runoff waters and by the general pollution caused by various industries. This is true even in places where lower salinity river and brackish water exist; or where high quality supplies could, in principle, be obtained by long distance piping; The sources of quality fresh water are becoming rarer, as pollution becomes prevalent.
Meanwhile, the costs for desalination of virtually unlimited supplies of seawater have been decreasing rapidly as RO and other desalination technologies have advanced and have become much more affordable.