Instant visa service for expat workers launched in KSA

Time: August 21, 2019  

Nitaqat seeks to increase the number of Saudis in the labor market, especially the private sector, as well as reduce unemployment and promote job stability. (AN photo)
  • Firms must be part of nationalization program
  • Saudi Arabia wants to cut unemployment rates

TAIF: Private sector firms in Saudi Arabia will be able to get instant visas for foreign workers, slashing the months-long application process, but they must commit to workforce nationalization rates. The service, from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, allows firms enrolled in the Kingdom’s flagship nationalization program to get visas immediately without needing to submit documents.
But only green-coded firms in the Nitaqat nationalization program are eligible.
Companies fall into different categories based on what kind of work a company does, workforce size, and how many Saudis are employed by the firm. There are four categories: Platinum, green (which has three-sub categories), yellow and red.
Nitaqat seeks to increase the number of Saudis in the labor market, especially the private sector, as well as reduce unemployment and promote job stability.
The ministry’s website said that the instant visa service had cut the eight-month period that was previously needed to get one.
There are numerous conditions before companies can take advantage of the snappier process. A company needs to be green-coded for 13 consecutive weeks, or 26 intermittent weeks within a 52-week period. It must also have a valid work license, and maintain the mandatory wage protection system.

FASTFACT

• Only green-coded firms in the Nitaqat nationalization program are eligible.

• The ministry recently launched Qiwa, an online platform combining all the country’s employment services under one (electronic) roof.

• Qiwa also aims to provide Saudi government officials with statistical information to tackle business challenges facing employers and employees.

Earlier this year, the ministry launched Qiwa, an online platform combining all the country’s employment services under one (electronic) roof. The ministry also wants to improve workplace efficiency and productivity, and attract international investment.
Minister of Labor and Social Development Ahmad Al-Rajhi said at the Qiwa launch: “The ministry has entered into partnerships and agreements to settle more than 561,000 job opportunities in the private sector until 2023.”
Qiwa also aims to provide Saudi government officials with statistical information to tackle business challenges facing employers and employees, and achieve the Vision 2030 reform plan’s goal of reducing the country’s unemployment rate to 7 percent.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Smart technologies up Saudi employees’ productivity satisfaction

Time: August 18, 2019  

Saudi Arabia’s growing appetite for technology is evident from the fact that today the country is the largest IT market in the Middle East.

A recent research conducted by Avaya, polled employees (both males and females) across 9 countries — Saudi Arabia, UK, Italy, South Africa, UAE, Singapore, Germany, Australia and France — has found that an overwhelming majority of Saudi respondents (84 percent) agree that technology-assisted workplaces help them increase their productivity.

While it can be expected that younger employees and tech-savvy millennials would be most in favor of using technology to aid their job functions, an interesting finding was that it was actually the age group of 55 years and over that showed the highest agreement (95 percent).

Seventy percent of the survey’s Saudi respondents stressed the importance of enhancing communications and collaboration systems in their organizations. This figure places Saudi Arabia first among the nine countries included in the research. It is an indication that organizations in the Kingdom need to pay urgent attention to the needs of these employees.

Besides increasing job satisfaction among this large group of employees, the investments that Saudi organizations make to enhance the communication and collaboration tools could go a long way in optimizing operations.

There is a clear need to do this as presently, a surprisingly large number of Saudi employees (85 percent) report loss of work time due to poor communication.

According to Zuhair Diab, managing director of AVAYA, Saudi Arabia, such productivity losses can be easily avoided through the use of smart technologies.

“Take video collaboration for example. Today, broadband internet and easy-to-set-up-and use conferencing solutions are conveniently available to businesses across the Kingdom,” said Diab.

He added: “Together, these facilitate instant connectivity for teams, leading to enhanced collaboration, rapid sharing of ideas and information, and reducing the need to for business-related travel. It should come as no surprise that our research found that the large percentage employees, especially women (80 percent), expressed their desire for desktop video conferencing technologies.”

Going a step further, Saudi companies could also look to converge their customer and workforce experience solutions.

“This would not only enable them to maximize the value of each customer interaction but also increase the productivity of their workforce. Furthermore, a converged customer and workforce solution can bring simplicity to business processes, lower total cost of ownership and ultimately deliver a faster and higher return on investment.”

Companies that can effectively align their technology investments with the current market need for enhanced customer and employee experiences will be in the leading position in the Saudi market.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi farmers swap grass for gas

Time: August 02, 2019  

Saudi Arabia and Denmark are developing a patented process to convert natural gas into high protein livestock feed. (File/AFP)
  • Unibio plans to develop a facility in the Kingdom that will utilize its patented fermentation process, which converts natural gas into high-protein livestock feed
  • The project aims to decouple protein production from farming and fishing while instead using abundant natural gas

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and Denmark are developing a patented process to convert natural gas into high protein livestock feed.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and Denmark’s Unibio have struck an initial agreement worth $200 million to develop the concept.
Unibio plans to develop a facility in the Kingdom that will utilize its patented fermentation process, which converts natural gas into high-protein livestock feed.
“With a growing population, this project represents an important step toward achieving food security for the Kingdom by providing a sustainable and economically viable source of animal feed products,” said SAGIA Governor Ibrahim Al-Omar.

“The importance of this project is that it uses a clean and abundant natural source in the Kingdom, and produces a high-quality protein supplements to feed fish, poultry and livestock, in addition to the transfer of advanced technology to the Kingdom.”
The project aims to decouple protein production from farming and fishing while instead using abundant natural gas.
Research into developing synthetic proteins as alternative food sources is being driven by a rapidly expanding global population which is expected to rise by a third to 9.8 billion by 2050. Rising wealth levels also produces a corresponding rise in protein consumption.
Unibio claims its technology also provides an environmentally friendly alternative to the practice of gas flaring in the energy industry.
It estimates that nearly 140 billion cubic meters (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas are being flared and vented annually by the oil industry.
That is the equivalent of about a quarter of total US gas consumption.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Blowin’ in the wind: Saudi Arabia’s energy future

Time: July 31, 2019  

Road to renewables: The 400 MW Dumat Al-Jandal wind farm project is part of Saudi Arabia’s shift away from economic dependence on fossil fuels for electricity production. (Photo courtesy of Masdar)
  • The Middle East’s largest wind farm will be constructed in the Kingdom’s northwestern Al-Jouf region
  • Dumat Al-Jandal wind project will generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Until now few people outside Saudi Arabia had heard of Dumat Al-Jandal.

But with construction due to begin there on the Middle East’s largest — and Saudi Arabia’s first — wind farm, the historical capital of the Kingdom’s northwestern Al-Jouf region will soon be firmly on the world’s renewable-energy map.

Launched as a part of Saudi Arabia’s planned shift away from fossil fuels as a source of electricity, the $500 million wind farm will have an installed capacity of 400 megawatts (MW), enough to power 70,000 homes in the Kingdom and reduce carbon emissions by up to 880,000 tons every year. Commercial operations are due to start in the first quarter of 2022.

Last week, a consortium led by EDF Renewables and Masdar reached a deal with Saudi and international banks to finance the utility-scale wind project, which will be located 560 miles north of Riyadh.

“We are delighted to see the project progress to the construction stage,” said Osama bin Abdul Wahab Khawandanah, CEO of the Saudi Power Procurement Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Electricity Co. (SEC).

In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy, the Saudi government is planning to develop 30 solar and wind projects over the next nine years as part of a $50 billion program to boost power generation and cut oil consumption. It is seeking to use more natural gas and renewable energy for power generation so that the nearly 600,000 barrels of oil that are currently burnt each day for the purpose can be freed up for export.

As part of an effort to reduce economic dependence on sales of crude, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is investing in industrial units to manufacture components for solar and wind farms and in renewable-energy facilities.

To this end, the Renewable Energy Project Development Office of the Saudi Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources had awarded the Dumat Al-Jandal wind-farm project in January following a call for tenders in August 2017.

EDF Renewables and Masdar — which are, respectively, the renewable-energy units of Electricite de France SA and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. — had submitted the most cost-competitive bid of $21.3 per MW hour.

“Saudi Arabia is a large country that has different atmospheres from north to south,” Yousif Al-Ali, acting executive director of clean energy at Masdar, told Arab News.

“Particularly in the north- western side, they have very high wind resources, so you can build wind projects at an attractive cost. That area, close to Egypt and north of the Red Sea, has a lot of wind resources.”

Al-Ali said the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain lacked Saudi Arabia’s advantages when it comes to viable wind projects.

FASTFACTS

• Wind power involves the conversion of kinetic (wind) energy into electrical energy.

• Wind makes a wind turbine’s rotor spin; the rotor blades’ movement drives a generator that produces electricity.

• Average wind speeds must be above 18 km per hour to make installing a wind turbine worthwhile.

• Ideal locations for wind turbines are the countryside, farms and coastline.

Nevertheless, in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, the northwestern and southern parts of Oman have good wind resources.

“In the Gulf region, the potential for wind is specifically in the northwestern side of Saudi Arabia and the southern side of Oman,” Al-Ali said.

“The area on the Egyptian side opposite the Dumat Al-Jandal project location has a lot of wind resources. There is also very good wind potential in Tunisia and Morocco,” he added. “I foresee more wind projects in Saudi Arabia, especially as they have a plan to have 27.3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy in their total energy mix by 2024. A large portion of this amount will be coming from wind.”

As for the Dumat Al-Jandal project, the contracted wind- turbine technology provider Vestas will be responsible for the engineering, procurement and construction contract.

Spanish industrial group TSK will be in charge of the rest of the plant, while Belgian company CG Holdings will provide substations and high-voltage solutions.

The wind farm is expected to supply electricity according to a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Saudi Power Procurement Co.

“The plant will be connected to the Kingdom’s grid, generating 400 MW of clean power,” Al-Ali said. “We had a world record with the pricing of $21.3 per kilowatt hour.”

During construction, the wind farm will employ 1,000 people, which will drop to between 30 and 50 when the site becomes fully operational.

“We are delighted to take part in the first wind project in (Saudi Arabia), which is set to be the most powerful wind farm in the Middle East,” said Bruno Bensasson, EDF Group senior executive president responsible for renewable energies, and chairman and CEO of EDF Renewables.

“This new step reflects the quality of our partnership with Masdar, which enabled us to jointly submit the most competitive bid. Wind power is now representing a renewable and economical solution in the energy mix.”

He said that Dumat Al-Jandal represents another step forward under the EDF Group’s Cap 2030 strategy, which aims to double its renewable energy capacity by 2030 — both in France and worldwide — to 50 GW.

Masdar CEO Mohamed Jameel Al-Ramahi said that winning the contract for Saudi Arabia’s first wind farm during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January was a momentous event in the history of the company.

“It illustrated the depth of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to realizing its bold strategy to substantially increase the contribution of renewables in its total energy mix to 27.3 GW by 2024, from wind as well as solar energy,” he added.

“The oversubscribed financing of the Dumat Al-Jandal project further illustrates the confidence of local and international lenders, and the investment community, in the economy of the Kingdom, and its potential as a hub for highly cost-effective renewable energy development.”

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Saudi Arabia to build world’s first long-range hyperloop test track

24/07/19

Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin group, speaks in Dubai on April 29, 2018, during the unveiling of the DP World CargoSpeed a partnership to build a hyperloop system for cargo in the UAE. (File/AFP)
  • The hyperloop technology is expected to reduce journey times across Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf
  • It will create opportunities for the development of specific hyperloop technologies and develop local expertise in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: A study will be conducted to build the world’s longest test and certification hyperloop track in Saudi Arabia, American transportation technology company, Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), announced on Tuesday.

A 35-kilometer test and certification track will be built 100 kilometers north of the Red Sea port of Jeddah, in King Abdullah Economic City.

The project, which will include a research center and a hyperloop manufacturing facility, will be in partnership with the Kingdom’s Economic City Authority (ECA). It will facilitate the development of localized hyperloop supply chains and the acceleration of innovation clusters across the Kingdom.

The hyperloop technology is expected to reduce journey times across Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf.

Traveling from Riyadh to Jeddah would be reduced from 10 hours to 76 minutes, a statement from VHO said. While travel from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi in the UAE would be shortened to 48 minutes from 8.5 hours.

The announcement stated that the partnership will create opportunities for the development of specific hyperloop technologies and develop local expertise in Saudi Arabia which be commercialized and scaled.

“As we continue to help deliver the strategic pillars of Vision 2030,” Secretary-General of the ECA, Mohanud A. Helal, said during his visit to the VHO headquarters in Los Angeles.

“Having hyperloop at King Abdullah Economic City is going to act as a catalyst for a Saudi Silicon Valley effect and galvanize our software development, high technology research, and manufacturing industries,” Helal added.

Last year, the CEO of Virgin group, Sir Richard Branson, was in Dubai to unveil the DP World CargoSpeed, which aims to build a hyperloop system for cargo in the UAE.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi invention holds immense promise for a water-scarce world

Time: July 24, 2019  

‘Sun-rich’ countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand to reap the greatest benefits from the KAUST breakthrough in sustainable desalination technology. (Shutterstock)
  • Device built by KAUST researchers can turn seawater into potable water using solar power
  • Technology uses waste heat recovered from solar panels to power desalination process

DUBAI: The use of solar power to produce plentiful supplies of safe drinking water has long been seen as an answer to many of the Middle East’s pressing challenges relating to water and energy. Now a project at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has raised hopes of just such a solution.

Researchers at the university’s Water Desalination and Reuse Center in Jeddah say they have developed a technology that uses waste heat recovered from solar panels to power a desalination process that produces clean water from seawater.

“The global solar panel installed capacity is huge, so the quantity of waste heat produced is enormous,” said Dr. Peng Wang, a professor at the center.

“We can use this to give us fresh water and also show us a very attractive future.”

Few regions in the world stand to benefit from such an invention as much as the Arabian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, for example, is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of water resources per inhabitant, according to UN data.


IN NUMBERS

 9% – Saudi Arabia’s electricity used for desalination of seawater

 38% – Middle East and North Africa’s share of global water-desalination capacity

40% – Saudi Arabia’s electricity from burning oil (2016)

40% – Saudi electricity demand rise expected over 2019-2030

40 gigawatts – Saudi solar PV energy capacity target for 2030

$100 billion – Investments needed globally by 2030 for solar applications


“Saudi Arabia produced close to 2 billion cubic meters of desalinated water in 2018, and it is estimated that by 2030, 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s local oil and gas will solely be used to meet the domestic demand for fresh water,” Peng said.

“The production of drinking water in Saudi Arabia consumes a lot of fossil fuels, which is not sustainable. The solar potential that the Kingdom has is massive. We say it has the best solar energy in the world, but we are not using it. We have the energy, but on the other hand we don’t have fresh water. So if you can use this energy to give you fresh water, it’s the best solution,” he said.

For two years, Peng has been working on developing a new, more sustainable desalination system. “We know that solar panels have a big problem of wasted heat,” he said, referring to photovoltaic (PV) modules that convert sunlight directly into electricity. “We decided to combine these two together — the heat coming from the solar panel and our desalination process.”

Thanks to advancements in technology, modern solar panels are increasingly effective in harvesting solar energy. According to Peng, solar panels can absorb more than 90 percent of incoming solar radiation. However, only 10 to 20 percent of this energy can be converted by most commercial solar panels into electricity.

“This means that about 80 to 90 percent of the harvested solar energy is actually converted to heat,” he said. “It is also the reason commercial solar panels get very hot in the daytime.”

In fact, solar panels across the Kingdom are known to record levels of up to 40C above the ambient air temperature during summer months. “If it’s 30C (ambient temperature), the panel can be as hot as 80C,” Peng said. “This means the solar panel suffers from some kind of drawback.”

Put another way, there are limits to the amount of sun’s heat that can be converted by a solar panel into electricity. “People have been working on various ways of cooling down solar panels, but so far it hasn’t been very successful,” he said. “At this stage, our device utilizes the waste heat (from solar panels) to give us something useful, which is drinking water.”

The device built by the research team can make both seawater and contaminated groundwater into drinking water. As of now, it can produce almost four liters of drinking water per hour using the heat from solar panels. “We believe this is a significant number, especially when you think of all the solar panels you have installed in the entire world,” he said.

‘Sun-rich’ countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand to reap the greatest benefits from the KAUST breakthrough in sustainable desalination technology. (Shutterstock)

“The calculation we have is also very attractive. It tells us that if every solar panel uses our device, we can have at least 10 percent of the world’s drinking water in about six years’ time — and this is a conservative estimate.”

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the wider Gulf region are among the 122 “sun-rich” countries that lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In theory, at least, the amount of potable water production available to these countries could be doubled if sufficient numbers of solar installations were set up.

“You should expect drinking water coming out of these devices for the entire country,” Peng said, referring to Saudi Arabia, which has set ambitious renewable energy production goals for itself. According to the National Renewable Energy Program’s website, the target for energy from solar photovoltaics alone is 40 GW in 2030. “If by that time every panel in the Kingdom (includes) our device, by our conservative calculation is that they will produce more than 50 percent of the drinking water for Saudi Arabia.”

The research center’s breakthrough looks even more promising if the technology is adopted on a large scale. To this end, the scientists behind the device will have to carry out more work to enhance the system’s scalability and stability.

A scientific paper published on July 10 said the largest device the team was able to build so far measured 10 sq. cm. “At this point, we can double that size, but our target is to make it one square meter within the next 12 months,” Peng said. “This is the next step in our project.”

Stability is of equal importance since desalinating seawater is no easy matter given the harmful impact of high salt concentrations on the device. Scale formation due to salt precipitation inside the device is a problem that scientists are currently trying to solve, with answers including a system that can operate for long periods without major maintenance.

Prof. Peng Wang

“It’s a very attractive drinking-water production system, especially in decentralized facilities,” Peng said. “By decentralization, we mean producing drinking water in places where you have low-to-medium population density, such as off-grid small villages, small tribes, islands, all kinds of maritime activity and small towns with populations of about 10,000. Our technology is attractive to places in need of niche applications.”

Once the device is able to produce fresh water on such a scale, the next step could include dryland agriculture to grow plants or grass for sheep. “Farmers see an opportunity there,” he told Arab News. “With our device, you can have significantly more water. When you have water in a dry place and in arid to semi-arid regions, you can do many things that were once challenging.”

However, keeping the device’s manufacturing cost as low as possible will be critical if it to be affordable for impoverished areas. Although research is still in its early stages, the research scientists will have a clearer idea of the costs when they are able to build large-scale devices.

“Hopefully by next year, we will have a pilot-scale demonstration to show the world,” Peng said. “One branch under Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy has already contacted us to express interest and they are talking about the possibility of granting us funds to help speed up the process. We are in negotiations with the government and other companies that are also interested in helping us.”

Looking to the future, Peng sees vast scope for the device, which has drawn attention to KAUST’s research expertise in water desalination and reuse.

“We will all run out of oil reserves at some point and solar is easily the most renewable energy known to us,” he said. “There are more than 800 million people in the world who have no access to clean water. Living in rural areas in underdeveloped countries, where the best infrastructure isn’t available, they look for decentralized drinking water solutions. Our technology should match this need very nicely.”

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Cabinet gives go-ahead for businesses to open 24/7 in Saudi Arabia

Time: July 17, 2019  

1 / 2
Under a new law, shops in Saudi Arabia can now have the option to remain open 24 hours a day. (Reuters)
  • Regulations and procedures will be developed and put in place to govern 24-hour opening
  • It is expected that a fee will be payable by businesses that wish to take advantage of the opportunity

RIYADH: The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday announced that businesses in Saudi Arabia are to be given the option to remain open 24 hours a day.

Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid Al-Qassabi thanked King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the decision, which he said would improve the quality of life in the Kingdom by raising levels of satisfaction among residents and creating new opportunities for the business sector.

He added that it has been shown that 24-hour trading can have a positive effect on the macroeconomy of a country by increasing demand for goods and services, stimulating consumer spending and attracting capital investment. In addition, he said, it can help boost sectors such as leisure, tourism, transport and communications, and it is expected to create new job opportunities.

The decision reflects moves being made by the Kingdom to support the private sector and entrepreneurs by providing the best possible environment in which to operate through the amendment of regulations and legislation, and the continuing process of economic reforms.

Saudi Arabia is also committed to reducing the unemployment rate from 11.6 percent to 7 percent by providing more job opportunities for young people in particular, supporting entrepreneurs, establishing large enterprises, and increasing the role of the private sector and creating partnerships with it.

Talat Zaki Hafiz, secretary-general of the committee on  information and banking awareness,  believes the decision to allow 24-hour opening is a positive move for the country.

“I think this is a smart move that will benefit the economy and reduce the unemployment rate, which is considered now to be high at 11.6 percent, but also to serve the needs of the public who are living in the country, tourists and people who are visiting for Hajj and Umrah,” he said.

Iyad Ghulam of NCB Capital, an investment banking and asset management firm, also welcomed the announcement.

“We believe it will have a positive impact on the economy by creating employment, increasing disposable income, and boosting small and medium enterprises and the private sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product. For listed companies, we expect restaurants to be the key beneficiaries.

“In line with Vision 2030 targets, we expect the relaxing of regulations governing business hours to have a positive impact on the overall economy by supporting GDP growth, reducing unemployment, potentially increasing consumer spending, and meeting the needs of a larger consumer base.”

Regulations and procedures will be developed and put in place to govern 24-hour opening, and it is expected that a fee will be payable by businesses that wish to take advantage of the opportunity. The decision of whether or not to open all hours will remain with individual business owners.

Khalid Abdulrahman, the owner of a large coffee shop in Riyadh, said that the decision could benefit certain businesses, including his, but a lot will depend on the yet to be revealed details of how the process will operate.

“It might affect us positively to open 24 hours during the weekend only, because most of the Saudi people stay up all night,” he said. “This depends on whether we get to choose the days to open around the clock.”

Ahmed Mushtaq who runs Sohoby, a business-technology provider in Jeddah, said that it could give his employees more flexibility in choosing preferable working hours.

“As all of them are hard workers, some do prefer working during night hours as they can be focused and achieve more,” he said. “With this decision, employees’ working hours will be more flexible, especially for those who wish to work during late hours and spend more time with their families during the day.”

The Cabinet said that its decision takes into account the security and social needs of the community, particularly at night, and also weather requirements, especially those designed to cope with high temperatures during the summer.

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Saudi Arabia ranked second among G20 countries for telecoms expansion

Time: July 11, 2019  

Saudi Arabia has succeeded in increasing the average speed of mobile internet services substantially. (Shutterstock photo)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been ranked second among the G20 group of leading nations for the development of its telecommunication services.

According to global radio spectrum allocation reports, the Kingdom made the largest breakthrough among G20 countries in terms of the amount of radio spectrum awarded to operators in globally identified frequency bands for public mobile telecom services.

Since the end of the second quarter of 2019, the Kingdom has been positioned behind Japan in the sector’s league table.

The Global Broadband Speed Test, Speedtest.net, recently revealed that the Kingdom had succeeded in increasing the average speed of mobile internet services from 9.2 megabits per second (Mbps) at the end of September 2017, to 37.5 Mbps by the end of May this year.

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Solar-energy club boosted by Saudi Arabia’s entry

Time: July 06, 2019  

A man looks at the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh. Experts say that the Saudi renewable-energy market is the largest in the Middle East, with massive capacity expansion. (Reuters)
  • The International Solar Alliance is a network of 122 “sun-rich” countries
  • Agreement to join ISA was signed during the Crown Prince’s tour of India in February

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is expected to play a significant role in the future of solar energy following an agreement it signed with an inter-governmental organization that has its headquarters outside Delhi in India.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a network of 122 “sun-rich” countries that the Kingdom joined during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour of India earlier this year. Most of the countries lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Countries that do not fall within the Tropics can join the ISA and enjoy all benefits as other members, with the exception of voting rights.

The ISA was launched jointly by the prime ministers of India and France in Paris in 2015 on the sidelines of COP21, the UN climate conference.

Its primary objective is to work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Its activities are aimed, among other things, at ramping up solar energy applications in agriculture, mini-grids and rooftops; financing; e-mobility and storage; and supporting solar technologies.

“The ISA welcomes the Kingdom’s signature on the framework agreement,” Upendra Tripathy, head of the ISA, told Arab News, referring to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

SOLAR TECHNOLOGY

• Photovoltaic systems – Semiconductor materials (such as thin-film solar cells) absorb sunlight, creating a reaction that generates electricity for use in everything from calculators to large utilities.

• Solar-thermal power – Arrays of reflectors focus the sun’s heat onto devices that produce electricity.

• Solar water heating systems – Flat-plate collectors mounted on building rooftops heat up a fluid contained in tubes; the heat is transmitted to water in a storage tank or a swimming pool.

• Passive solar heating – Uses materials such as sunlit floors and walls that absorb heat during the day and releases it at night.

“The decades of experience in energy policy, infrastructure, investment and financing that Saudi Arabia will bring on board will be incredibly valuable for ISA members. This will help member countries to promote solar-energy deployment and implement the Paris accord.”

The Paris accord is an agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with the reduction of greenhouse-gas-emissions, which was signed in 2016.

“As a prominent member of OPEC, Saudi Arabia has always played a major role in global energy markets,” Tripathy told Arab News. “The Saudi government is now sending a clear message to the global community that it can play a prominent role in the future of solar energy.”

Experts say that the Saudi renewable-energy market is the largest in the Middle East, with massive capacity expansion, amounting to almost 16 gigawatts, expected to happen in the coming years.

“From what we can see in the Kingdom’s approach, the ambition is much bigger than just ensuring that a part of the internal consumption of electricity is generated by renewables,” said Yousif Al-Ali, acting executive director of clean energy at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, which has been chosen by Saudi Arabia to develop its first commercial wind project.

“The Saudis have plans to be an exporter of clean energy to their neighboring countries. The Kingdom has all that is required to undertake such projects successfully and sustainably, namely sufficient acreage, very good resources of solar and wind energy, the right legislation, and a system that attracts very competitive finance and equity. So Saudi Arabia is well positioned to compete in this market.”

For his part, Tripathy noted that because Saudi Arabia is rich in both oil and solar energy resources, an optimium energy mix will not only maximize the Kingdom’s revenues but also reduce its carbon footprint and conserve its hydrocarbon resources.

“By boosting its investment in solar energy, Saudi Arabia can lead by example for other Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” he told Arab News. At the same time, he said, “the Kingdom can earmark part of its bilateral aid for supporting the adoption of solar technologies by other developing countries.”

With Saudi Arabia’s entry, according to Tripathy, the ISA will form a partnership with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), which is headquartered in Jeddah, to expand investments in solar power in the bank’s member countries.

“The ISA has a unique role in facilitating implementation of solar projects in member countries,” he said.

“In the past two years of operations, the ISA has assumed the role of an ‘enabler’ by helping to set up 30 fellowships for the member countries at a premier engineering institution (IIT Delhi) in the host country, and by training 200 master trainers from ISA member countries.”

The ISA also plays the role of a “facilitator” by arranging bank credit from India and France. In addition, it strives to boost investments in solar projects by acting as an incubator. The role involves nurturing initiatives such as the Common Risk Mitigation Mechanism (CRMM), which has mobilized $1 million for the purpose of reducing the cost of solar projects in member countries.

According to estimates, more than $100 billion in investments are needed by 2030 for massive deployment of solar applications.

While solar energy has a bright future in Saudi Arabia, a number of challenges, notably its intermittent nature, have to be overcome.

“The storage and pricing is a challenge,” Masdar’s Al-Ali told Arab News. “The price of solar energy from storage devices is still three to four times the price of electricity that comes directly from photovoltaic (PV) cells during the day time. This is an area where I believe the market will evolve. We are also seeing huge reductions in the price of storage batteries, driven by the automobile industry. The trend is predicted to continue.”

Echoing Al-Ali’s remarks about the industry, Kyle Weber, founder of Evera, a transporation-focused energy company founded in Dubai in 2017, said limited energy-storage capacity is the biggest hurdle in the path of the Middle East’s transition to renewables.

“While the heat, dust and humidity may make solar less efficient in the Gulf region than in other parts of the world, there is sufficient sun to generate a significant amount of electricity or thermal energy,” he said.

Weber said the business opportunities that could be unlocked by Saudi Arabia’s admission to the ISA cannot be overestimated. “Once seen as a very conservative and closed-off society, it is now attracting an incredible amount of attention,” he said.

“The decision to be a part of the ISA further reinforces the commitment of the Kingdom to joining the international community,” he said. “Saudi Arabia, like most Gulf countries, realizes that it can no longer continue to be a solely oil-driven economy and must diversify to something else, or risk being left behind.

“This ISA move represents a truly positive change for the country and its people and is extremely exciting for businesses like ours, who see the market opening up.”

The experts said Saudi Arabia’s decision needs to be seen in the context of international resolve to adopt measures to mitigate climate change. “We need to create efficiency in all our systems,” Al-Ali said. “Today, renewables make sense in addition to its environmental impact and the reduction in carbon footprint. It’s economical to have renewable energy projects.”

The price of electricity from solar energy today is far below that derived from conventional sources, a development that bodes well for the future of countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have a large number of power plants.

“These projects create jobs and support social growth,” Al-Ali said. “Renewable energy can play a role in creating jobs in places where other industries cannot.”

Looking to the future, Weber said: “Amazing projects, such as Neom, give me hope for the future in Saudi Arabia. In the solar sector specifically, there is incredible potential for a Gulf Cooperation Council grid.

“This will allow countries to buy and sell clean energy to one another to increase efficiency and stabilize the grid, and also to be able to cope with a wide range of renewable inputs, which generally fluctuate with the weather.”

In the final analysis, Weber said: “We are marching towards a climate change end game that appears extremely bleak. But I have faith that Saudi Arabia, the region and the whole world can make the necessary changes to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia becomes first Arab country to be granted full FATF membership

Time: June 22, 2019  

Saudi Arabia has become the first Arab country to be granted full membership of the Financial Action Task Force following the group’s AGM in Orlando. (Facebook)
  • Saudi Arabia had been a founding member of the MENA arm of the group since November 2004
  • Saudi Arabia received an invitation from FATF at the beginning of 2015 to join as an “observer member”

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has become the first Arab country to be granted full membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) following the group’s Annual General Meeting in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

The Kingdom’s accession comes as the FATF celebrates its 30th anniversary of its first meeting held in Paris in 1989.

Saudi Arabia had been a founding member of the MENA arm of the group since November 2004, and its full membership comes after it was reported the Kingdom had made “tangible progress” and for its efforts in implementing the FATF’s guidelines.

The group is responsible for issuing international standards, policies and best practices to combat money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation.

Saudi Arabia received an invitation from FATF at the beginning of 2015 to join as an “observer member” as the group hailed the Kingdom’s position at international and regional levels, as well as its efforts in combating money laundering, financing of terrorism and proliferation of arms.

With the Kingdom becoming a FATF member, the number of permanent members in the group is now 39, including the most influential countries in the world, such as the permanent members of the Security Council and most G-20 countries.

This article was first published in Arab News

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