Desalination technologies provide an alternative for potable water production, having significant potential for application where fresh water scarcity exists. Potential benefits have to be balanced with other factors, such as high costs, high energy consumption, and significant environmental impacts, for the understanding of real risks and gains of desalination within the context of integrated water resources management. Multiple factors can be considered when analysing the viability of a desalination project but often a limited approach is used. The complexity in the analysis lies in finding the alternatives that obey to multiple objectives (e.g. reduced environmental impact, social acceptance, less cost associated). In this paper, development of a methodology based on multiple criteria decision support system for the evaluation and ranking the potential of desalination technologies is described and applied to a Portuguese case study. Relevant factors to the selection of desalination technologies were identified using SWOT analysis and the MACBETH (Measuring Attractiveness by a Categorical Based Evaluation Technique) approach was applied. Technical alternatives considered include reverse osmosis and multi-effect desalination (MED), together with energy production by fossil fuels or solar energy. Production of water by conventional approaches was also considered. Results, for non-economic benefits, show higher score for MED solar but, in the cost-benefit analysis, conventional methods of water production have higher ranking since costs of renewable energies are not yet competitive. However, even if not preferred in economic terms, desalination is ranked significantly above the conventional approaches for non-economic criteria.

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