How to Quench Chile’s Thirst – Energy Magazine

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For thousands of Chileans, the water tap is a useless device and today they depend on cistern trucks to be able to count on the resource. The water shortage, product of the mega drought that affected us 13 years ago, seems to have normalized, especially for the government.

By Marina Parisi, Energy Magazine

Santiago de Chile.- 2021 was the fourth driest year in the history of our country, according to the Chilean Meteorological Directorate (DMC), after 1968, 1998 and 2019, respectively.

This means that more than six million compatriots live with water scarcity, hitting the sanitation industry, agriculture, livestock and the balance of our ecosystem along the way. To make matters worse, the normal supply of electrical energy is also put in check.

Let us remember that 24% of the Chilean matrix is ​​made up of hydroelectric plants, which are fed by reservoirs.

The rumor of power outages

In fact, in August 2021, the reservoirs throughout the territory registered only 46% of the volume that they historically had on that date. This is due to low rainfall and high temperatures.

Immediately, the red alert was turned on and rumors of possible power outages escalated so high that they reached the ears of the government. This decided to act by issuing Decree No. 51, which establishes that the National Energy Commission (CME) can rule on electricity rationing, in the event of a deficit occurring or projected in the matrix.

Although the performance of the authority was successful, it only went so far. Apparently he took a break, since we did not see subsequent strategic actions to neutralize the advance of the drought.

Meanwhile, we have all seen how the Large Mining (both private and Codelco, both large consumers of water), has invested millions of dollars in individual seawater desalination plants. This to optimize your copper production business.

What does a desalination complex do? It separates the water from the salt. This is carried out through a physical-chemical process called Reverse Osmosis. The problem is the high cost of this technology, since it requires a lot of electrical energy. In addition, there is an additional cost for pumping the seawater to the site where the plant is located.

But if there are areas of the country that today are dying of thirst, is it not worth investing in desalination plants to meet the needs of citizens and agricultural activity?

Israel, a benchmark in hydro generation

Chile is not the only country hit by drought. From the movies of biblical stories that show Israel in the middle of the desert with scarce water sources, the nation managed to rise victorious before the astonished gaze of the whole world.

In 2015 Israel totaled a production of 550 billion cubic liters of water. Currently, the north of the territory shines for the presence of nature, an agricultural industry for self-consumption and moreover, it shares some of its water resources with one of its neighbors: Egypt.

How did you do it? Thanks to the implementation of public policies that started 70 years ago. At that time, the authority resolved with determination that the scarcity of water was not going to be an impediment for the country to grow and develop its own industry.

So he got down to work, implementing in a first stage strategies for the efficient use of the resource. The objective was to produce more with less water, maximizing its savings.

But very early on, the government realized that such a policy was insufficient. This is where the real road to success begins: when Israel begins to do water management.

The road to desalination

The authority established in a second stage a plan to recycle water. Basically, remove pollutants from water and wastewater tributaries, enriching their quality. This made possible its use for agriculture, industry and residential consumption.

This model also included the recovery of groundwater, where the process was gradually optimized until reaching 70-80% reuse.

However, once again it was not possible to cover all the country’s water demand. In this way, the nation understood that the time had come to create artificial water and the way forward was the desalination of seawater.

Although great obstacles had to be overcome along the way. Although the desalination model was suggested by local experts in the early 1990s, the current government resisted, questioning the strategy on the grounds that it was too expensive to invest in such technology.

There was even a time when the authority postponed this policy and began to study other cheaper alternatives. Detractors also appeared, jumping on the scene to claim that desalination was not necessary for Israel.

However, the government finally realized that every day that sufficient water resources were not delivered to the country, economic activity slowed down.

finally water for all

When the first desalination plants began to operate in 1994, the authority verified that the pace of the economy was revitalized, positively impacting the country’s growth. This is how the desalination model finally made sense to the government.

Today Israel has five desalination plants that cover 100% of the population’s water demand, as well as industry and agriculture. All this adds up to a demand that today exceeds 2,200 million cubic meters per year.

The case of Israel not only shines because it managed to quench its own thirst. It also stands out because of the latest technology it put into place, at its Sorek desalination complex. Located two kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea and 15 kilometers south of Tel Aviv, this plant is 100% automated, operates 7/24 and only two people work in the control room.

It is time for the Chilean government to learn from the Israeli strategy, take out the calculator and get to work once and for all.

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