Predicting the specific energy consumption of reverse osmosis desalination

Ashlynn S. Stillwell, Michael E. Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Desalination is often considered an approach for mitigating water stress. Despite the abundance of saline water worldwide, additional energy consumption and increased costs present barriers to widespread deployment of desalination as a municipal water supply. Specific energy consumption (SEC) is a common measure of the energy use in desalination processes, and depends on many operational and water quality factors. We completed multiple linear regression and relative importance statistical analyses of factors affecting SEC using both small-scale meta-data and municipal-scale empirical data to predict the energy consumption of desalination. Statistically significant results show water quality and initial year of operations to be significant and important factors in estimating SEC, explaining over 80% of the variation in SEC. More recent initial year of operations, lower salinity raw water, and higher salinity product water accurately predict lower values of SEC. Economic analysis revealed a weak statistical relationship between SEC and cost of water production. Analysis of associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions revealed important considerations of both electricity source and SEC in estimating the GHG-related sustainability of desalination. Results of our statistical analyses can aid decision-makers by predicting the SEC of desalination to a reasonable degree of accuracy with limited data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number601
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2016


  • Desalination
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Multiple linear regression
  • Specific energy consumption
  • Statistical analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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