Utility Branding Network

Ocean Desalination

Consumer surveys and, to some degree, common sense tell us that ocean desalination does not have the same stigma as recycled water or indirect potable reuse. After all, many of us swim in the ocean, but we do not swim in wastewater.

However, just because ocean desalination does not have the stigma of reuse does not mean that there are no branding challenges and that securing the investment to implement it will be a cinch. A radio talk show host recently branded desalination as expensive, troublesome to implement, and energy intensive.

Desalination has its own set of issues, including the following:

Desalination Costs - The differences in the cost between alternative supplies and desalination has dropped dramatically over the last 15 years. However, desalination is still viewed by many as too expensive. Also, this trend of costs dropping is likely to slow or even reverse due to rising energy and construction costs.

Utility Branding NetworkEnvironmental Issues - The fact that desalination plants must be near the coast, and that desalination represents a consumptive use of seawater, has energized environmental groups. The plants can negatively impact both the coastal marine life and the beach environment.

Power Plant Co-Location - Proposed co-location with power plants has already polarized and rallied environmental groups who already want power plants removed from the coast.

Energy Intensive - Although desalination technology has been improving, the process still uses significant amounts of energy. This issue will become more important with growing concerns about climate change and increasing energy prices.

Growth Enabler - Given that seawater desalination can be viewed as a limitless resource, it is not surprising that no-growth organizations get involved in the debate.

Desalination can be branded in several ways:

  • Increases water reliability and water independence.
  • osts more to produce than current water supplies.
  • Uses too much energy.
  • Harms coastal marine life and degrades the coastal environment in general.
  • Enables growth due to the limitless supply.
  • Prolongs the life of coastal power plants.
  • Utilizes complex chemistry and technology.

In short, research and past projects have demonstrated that:

  • Desalination will be implemented at whatever cost if developing the new supply is critical.
  • Prior to implementing desalination, communities will often require that the utility demonstrate reasonable success in the areas of conservation, reduction of leakage, and water reuse.
  • Coastal groups will push for water intake structures that limit harm to marine life or other environmental restoration projects that offset environmental impacts.
  • Ocean desalination plants will be increasingly powered with renewable energy or promoted as carbon neutral to offset concerns about greenhouse gases and climate change.

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