A new desalination plant outside of Tianjin is attracting attention because of the new government support for the project.
There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.
“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”
In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.
While domestic demand for fresh water is expected to grow, this new industry may also provide fresh water for export. The government’s support is being compared to its support of the solar-panel and wind turbine industries.
“There are large-scale desalination projects centralized all up and down the east coast of China,” ERI’s chief executive officer, Thomas S. Rooney Jr., said in an interview. “Our company has the most advanced technology in the entire desalination industry. And one of the beautiful things about China is that they like to adopt the most advanced technologies.”
“You can either fight them or join them, and our philosophy is that China likely is going to be the next big desalination market,” he added.
I am not sure this is a valid responsibility of government, to subsidize new technologies that do not promise profit. Maybe they do see it as potentially profitable in the future, or perhaps as a needed resource for Chinese society.