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ACCIONA uses digital twin technology to start up Al-Khobar 1 desalination plant

  • A remote team based in Spain began the process of testing and commissioning the desalination facility with only minimal staff on site

An ACCIONA team in Madrid has for the first time tested and commissioned a desalination plant thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia using “Digital Twin” technology.

The Digital Twin – an exact digital copy of the Al-Khobar 1 Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) plant in Saudi Arabia – allowed a specialist team in Madrid to begin testing and commissioning at the plant remotely, with only minimal staff on site. The technology allowed the commissioning of the plant to remain on schedule in spite of the travel restrictions in force as a result of the pandemic.

The Madrid team conducted the first stage of this process from ACCIONA's Water Control Centre “CECOA”.

Using advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence, the desalination plant’s start up equipment, control system programmes, water and electrical circuits were tested and put into operation with remote supervision. With the first stage of this process completed successfully using the Digital Twin, the next stages of the commissioning process are continuing as planned and will be completed shortly.

The plant, equipped with energy-efficient Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) technology, is a critical project in the Kingdom’s Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) modernisation of the water sector.

ACCIONA is the EPC contractor for Al Khobar 1, which is expected to be completed during the next months. The desalination plant will produce 210,000 cubic meters of potable water per day, serving a population of 350,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest desalination plants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ignacio Lobo Gutiérrez, ACCIONA Project Director of Al-Khobar 1, said: “The start-up of desalination plants will in future be undertaken by local and remote teams working together thanks to Digital Twin technologies. Because of the pandemic, it is very likely that desalination plants coming on stream next year will be commissioned in this way”.

Jesús Sancho, ACCIONA Middle East Managing Director, said: “Industry 4.0 is the new standard. It is already here. COVID has just accelerated its arrival. 5G will enable machine learning, artificial intelligence and Big Data, and the connectivity and remote operation of all systems and sub-systems. This will greatly increase the productivity and efficiency or our water treatment plants. We are experiencing a revolution in multi-system integration. The possibilities that lie ahead are limitless.”

Saudi Arabia, with a population of 33.4 million, is the world’s third largest per capita consumer of water, behind the United States and Canada. The Kingdom has introduced measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the goal of achieving a 24 per cent reduction in consumption in 2021 and by as much as 43 per cent by the end of this decade.

According to ACCIONA’s latest Sustainability Report, desalinated water production in the Middle East will be 13 times higher in 2040 than it was in 2014. In a region with acute water scarcity, demand for desalinated water is being driven by climate change and population growth.

ACCIONA is a world leader in desalination using reverse osmosis technology, which emits 6.5 times fewer greenhouse gases than thermal desalination.

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