Today, the share of clean energy production in the Middle East does not exceed 7%, and the technologies used in the production of hydrocarbons in the region are not efficient enough yet. Developing the renewable energy sector in Saudi Arabia is therefore one of the key pillars of the Kingdom's green vision. Indeed, clean energy projects bring with them economic, social and environmental benefits.
Saudi Arabia joins the green revolution!
Envisioned as an extension of Vision 2030, the Saudi Green Initiative announced in March 2021 and initiated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to reshape the economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and chart a new course for the region in terms of protecting the planet while contributing, in a significant way, to the achievement of global climate change carbon reduction goals.
While it is true that as the world's largest oil producer and exporter, and one of the world's top 10 carbon dioxide emitters, Saudi Arabia must nevertheless take on the mission of being a voice in the fight against the climate crisis that is undermining today's world, while also becoming the chief architect of a greener world.
While much remains to be done in this area, the country is determined to have a lasting global impact. And to achieve this, it is not working alone. The Saudi Green Initiative project will be carried out in collaboration with allied countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Middle Eastern and neighboring countries in the MENA region, international partners, as well as institutions such as the Net Zero Producers Forum, which brings together various oil-exporting countries.
"Climate action will boost competitiveness, stimulate innovation and create millions of quality jobs. Young people, both in the kingdom and globally, are demanding a cleaner, greener and more inclusive future, and we owe it to them to make it happen."
Developing renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions
For this reason, the government is committed to implementing all technological means to transform the way the population is supplied with energy and reduce carbon emissions from hydrocarbon production in the region by more than 60%. And the projects are already underway!
NEOM and ACWA Power's green hydrogen plant, expected to be the largest in the world, is designed to produce enough energy to power 20,000 hydrogen buses daily.
On this subject, we are happy to listen to the insights of Jan Frederik Braun and Amro Elshurafa, researchers at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies And Research Center (KAPSARC).
Riyadh launches a major plan to green its environment.
Infrastructure is key!
Saudi Arabia's first 300 MW photovoltaic plant in Sakaka offsets greenhouse gas emissions at a level equivalent to taking 120,000 cars off the road for a year.
In the tourism and urban development sectors, ambitious projects such as The Line and the Red Sea Project will be powered 100% by renewable energy.
Finally, while nine solar and wind energy development projects are already underway, 35 other initiatives will be devoted to improving energy efficiency throughout the Kingdom in order to reduce energy consumption and waste.
"Saudi Green Initiative will strive to reduce carbon emissions by more than 4% of global contributions, through an ambitious renewable energy program that will produce 50% of the kingdom's energy from renewable sources by 2030, and several other projects in the areas of clean hydrocarbon technologies, which are estimated to eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions."
of the energy mix will come from renewable energies by 2030.
GreenTech Media Research analyst Adam James and Dr. Khaled of Knowledge Industry Co discuss real-world cases here.
Protecting the oceans
Saudi Arabia is home to a variety of environments, including thousands of kilometres of coastline, dense forests and vast desert. Protecting this environment actually helps to enhance biodiversity and to restore the Kingdom's natural heritage.
The Saudi Green Initiative is committed to the sustainable protection of the seas and oceans surrounding the Kingdom. To achieve this, the authorities will increase protected areas to more than 30% of the total land area, i.e. around 600,000 km² of coastline. This target will exceed the current global level of 17%.
In order to make the project concrete, the government has decided to place 13 coastal and marine areas under protection.
Defending Saudi Arabia's flora and preventing desertification
Today, in addition to protecting its flora and fauna, the Kingdom and its region are also facing major climatechallenges, such as desertification, which poses an immediate economic risk to the Kingdom and the region. Economically, almost $13 billion are lost each year due to dust storms in the region, which also reduces the average life expectancy of Saudis by one and a half years.
The goal of the Saudi Green Initiative (and by extension of the Middle East Green Initiative, as Saudi Arabia intends to bring its neighbors on board) is therefore to plant 40 billion additional trees in the Middle East, which would restore an area equivalent to 200 million hectares of degraded land to reach 5% of the global planting target of 1,000 billion trees.
It should be noted that in April, the 10 million trees planted mark was passed, in the space of 6 months.
additional trees must be planted in the region by 2030.
While flora is a key issue, wildlife projects are also important. In this context, last March, the authorities reintroduced into the wild some endangered species: 25 Rhine Gazelles, 10 Nubian Ibex and 8 Arabian Oryx. In addition, work towards the conservation and reintroduction of Arabian leopards has been ongoing for a long time.
Working on waste?
Every year, no less than 15 million tons of waste are produced by Saudi Arabia. This is equivalent to the weight of 130,000 blue whales.
Towards a sustainable tourism and listening to the environment
Saudi Arabia, a territory located between the Persian Gulf to the east and the Red Sea to the west and the second largest country in the Arab world, has been determined, for some years now, to develop the Kingdom's tourism sector.
Guided by the sustainable development strategy as well as the Vision 2030 program, and more recently the Saudi Green Initiative, the tourism sector is determined to meet the Kingdom's future ambitions: to preserve the natural beauty and rich heritage of the sites while challenging itself with long-term tourism and economic objectives.
A look at two of the Kingdom's flagship projects...
an extraordinary project to develop the Kingdom's cultural and tourist offering.
"The joint desire of Saudi Arabia and France is to implement a new model of economic and tourism development, centered on the absolute preservation of the environment, respectful of history, the territories and the local population, at the service of an authentic tourist experience, true to the hospitality of the Arab world."
In just a few words, Gérard Mestrallet, Executive Chairman of the French Agency for the Development of AlUla, summed up the purpose of this flagship project which is in line with the Vision 2030 plan.
More precisely, rebuilding the AlUla space implies the construction of an archaeological, cultural and tourist complex with the appearance of a living open-air museum, with two objectives. The first is to invent a new tourist experience, faithful to the hospitality of the Arab world. The second is to become the reference project in terms of sustainable development, focused on the absolute preservation of the environment, respectful of the history of the territories and inclusive of the local population. Its development strategy is guided by the AlUla Sustainability Charter, which lays the foundation for adherence to a carbon-neutral drive combined with circular economy principles, strong resilience policies in ecologically sensitive historical areas, improved flood and water management, and vegetation planting.
A few months ago, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Vision 2030 plan, the Royal Commission for AlUla confirmed its project for the rehabilitation of the area, more commonly known as Time Travel. This new roadmap, which aims to protect more than 200,000 years of history, intends to combine the development of the area with successful investments and sustainability.
"By de-risking investment opportunities with our US$2 billion (7.5 billion Saudi riyals) seed funding and creating a strong governance framework, we have created a platform for responsible and sustainable development to rehabilitate a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site,"
To date, the first tourists could be welcomed within 3 to 5 years. Once fully equipped, the region, which already has an airport, should be able to receive between 1.5 and 2.5 million visitors per year, always respecting environmental and sustainable development standards.
The Red Sea project
a gigantic project on the Red Sea
Announced in 2017, The Red Sea Project tends to honor one of the planet's hidden natural treasures through the installation of a luxury destination created around it.
The project, considered by some to be the world's most ambitious with 200 km of coastline and an archipelago of 90 pristine islands, dormant volcanoes, deserts, mountains, natural treasures and a rich variety of wildlife, will provide unforgettable and personalized experiences to travelers from around the world in a breathtaking environment while committing to protecting, preserving and enhancing the local environment and setting a new standard for sustainable development.
Thus, based on sustainable tourism, the project roadmap uses technology to protect the environment. For example, the project will involve an intelligent destination management system that will monitor the environmental impact of operations and manage the comings and goings of visitors in order to avoid the influx of tourism into the various areas.
It is important to mention in this context that one of the challenges of the project is to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, waste generation, and light and noise pollution, while supporting the conservation of multiple coral reef ecosystems.
The project, whose completion is announced for 2030, will then propose 50 hotels and 8000 rooms distributed between 22 of the 90 islands of the archipelago.
The Line :
the green city of tomorrow
At the heart of the Saudi development project is this ultra-modern linear city project, which is called The Line. Located in the NEOM region, it is somewhat the cornerstone of Saudi ambitions. Firstly because it crystallises the Kingdom's desire for societal modernization, but also and above all because it will be a showcase for the best that the country has to offer in terms of urban planning, innovation and, of course, the environment.
"I present to you THE LINE, a city that spans 170 km and will retain 95% of NEOM's natural habitat with no cars, no streets, and zero carbon emissions."
Living in a pedestrian environment where everything is within five minutes. Implementing predictive technology in everyday life to improve the quality of life, running 100% on renewable energy... The least we can say is that the project is attractive. But it is also -mostly- sustainable.
Nature is at the heart of The Line, the ultra-modern, ultra-connected, ultra-environmentally friendly city being pitched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane, to be the heart of the NEOM region. The city will be built to connect the region's four distinctive ecosystems, from the coastline to the mountains, the coastal desert and the high valley.
This is a novel approach to urbanization! The Line will be made up of multiple hyper-connected communities, with pedestrian neighborhoods integrated with public parks and the natural landscape. From a technical perspective, the linear structure is supported by a seamlessly integrated underground layer of physical and digital infrastructure containing essential utilities and transportation.
That's the proportion of The Line's energy needs that will be produced using renewable energy.
In addition, The Line is expected to enable the NEOM region to become an economic engine for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the region and the world, with the aim of creating 380,000 new jobs, promoting economic diversification and adding €40 billion to the national GDP by 2030.
The Line is not the only
green urban project
Riyadh plans to plant 7.5 million trees in the Saudi capital, as well as eliminating the need for 2.2 million car trips per day, which is equivalent to offsetting about 1.4 million tons of carbon per year:
Investing in the start-ups of tomorrow
To make the Kingdom one of the top 20 countries in terms of growth and economic activity by 2030, it is essential to increase the number of startups established and specializing in the green economy and energy transition. We did not have to wait for the Saudi Green Initiative to make this project a reality, as illustrated by this small, non-exhaustive list of the best entrepreneurial ideas that have succeeded in this challenge.
or how to fight against food waste
The world's most wasteful countries, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have pledged to reduce their food waste by 50% by 2030.
With this in mind, biotechnology start-up Uvera has invested in the use of UV-C light exposure to increase the shelf life of food. In just 30 seconds of exposure, the shelf life of fresh food is doubled, without the use of chemicals. This benefits both the consumer and the planet.
The technology was even approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2019 as a safe food processing option.
Red Sea Farms,
or how to make agriculture greener
Food security has always been important to the Gulf countries even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, as early as 2018, the Kingdom unveiled its Organic Agriculture Action Plan and allocated SR750 million ($200 million) to support it.
The objective of this plan is to increase organic production by 300%. Its other objectives are to provide safe food and a sustainable and highly profitable agriculture model, which will be an important resource for the national economy.
Red Sea Farms is determined to follow the roadmap of this plan. Aimed at developing a solution to using salt water as irrigation in agriculture, this Saudi start-up will deploy up to eight agricultural sites in central and western Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi to improve global food security while reducing the carbon footprint.
Edama Organic Solutions,
or how to reduce organic waste
This Saudi technology nugget firmly believes that sustainable development of the Kingdom's cities can be achieved through efficient resource management.
Established in 2017, its mission is to create a local circular economy that recycles organic waste into high-value products for desert agriculture, while aligning the social, environmental and economic goals set by Vision 2030 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Four watchwords guide its roadmap: sustainability, to ensure food and water security while reducing pollution; innovation, using science to solve real-world problems; resourcefulness, to be at the forefront of creative approaches to solving problems; and community.
By working with nature and taking a holistic approach to problem solving, Edama strives to create a Saudi Arabia where all organic waste returns to the soil.
The school as a pillar of tomorrow's world: the KAUST case
Because one does not become a country, an industry, or a green company overnight, Saudi Arabia is also banking on education. This is an intelligent strategy, since today's students are tomorrow's inventors and decision-makers. And while there are universities all over the country - as well as all over the world - with projects that are as bold as they are innovative, there is one that stands out for its work on the environment: the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST. Focus.
Founded in 2006 on the outskirts of Jeddah, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is an international academic research institution that brings together high-level international researchers and provides them with the best possible conditions to collaborate in order to meet scientific and technological challenges. It will therefore come as no surprise to anyone that at the heart of its main issues - or at least its most publicized projects - are the themes of climate, the environment and energy.
In 2018, the KAUST campus has 11 research centers and 9 laboratories dealing with subjects such as water desalination and recycling, the study of Red Sea ecosystems, solar energy, catalytic processes, biosciences, clean combustion, etc. These are all areas that will play a key role in the environmental impact of Saudi society - and, in the long term, of the entire world.
Solar energy spearheaded
In concrete terms, how does this commitment manifest itself and what does it entail? It all depends on which side you are on. The projects and studies are as varied as they are important. For example, if we look at the issue of solar energy, at the heart of Saudi Arabia's project - which is not surprising in a country with such a high rate of sunshine, between twelve and thirteen hours a day in the hot season, and between six and eight hours a day in the mild season, for a whopping average of 2,300 kilowatt hours per square metre - KAUST, in collaboration with the University of Toronto, has created double-sided solar panels that are breaking records for efficiency. To do this, they created a double-sided tandem solar cell, built by combining the best of perovskite and silicon technologies. If these technical considerations don't speak to you, all you need to know is that this process not only converts sunlight into energy more efficiently, but also produces a higher intensity of electricity.
An international group of researchers and participants took part in the university's research conference: Emerging Concepts and Materials in Solar Energy Conversion, held on campus from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2016.
Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan
Not only that, but a team led by Professor Peng Wang has recently developed a technology for cooling solar panels. Indeed, the record temperatures recorded in the country reduce the efficiency of the panels. Subjected to too much heat, they are not only unable to transform all the solar energy into electricity, but also lose their lifespan due to excessive wear. It should be noted that conventional solar panels only convert 20% of the sun's energy into electricity. Thus, by using water vapor contained in the atmosphere, KAUST researchers are now able to cool photovoltaic panels. A small revolution that increases the amount of electricity generated by 20%, which is not negligible. And for those who are skeptical about the use of water as a cooling system in a desert area, the professor even addressed a little side note: "Water vapor is available everywhere, even in desert regions, and water is one of the materials with the greatest cooling potential. By using the ambient moisture in the desert at night, we can harvest enough water to implement this technology."
Oil, a lifelong friend
While the plan for economic, societal, energy and climate reforms currently underway in the country is focused on freeing the country from its obvious dependence on oil in order to prepare for the future, black gold remains a key element in the country's energy mix and the cornerstone of its economy.
million barrels/day is the rate of oil production in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer ahead of Russia and the United States.
This is undoubtedly why the scientists, researchers and students at KAUST work every day to improve the economic efficiency of oil use as well as to reduce its environmental impact. For example, one of the university's latest projects, in conjunction with oil giant Saudi Aramco, was to allow multiple stages of refining to be done at once, using a single reactor. "This could facilitate a paradigm shift in the way oil is used," said Donal Bradley, KAUST's vice president for research. These technologies can provide an incentive to maximize the production of materials used in everyday life, rather than the production of fuels, with very significant economic and sustainability benefits. Two birds with one stone, then...
In the same sector, Professor Wang explains here how to separate oil from water using a material specially designed for this purpose:
Water, a precious resource
This was alluded to earlier. Saudi Arabia is a desert region with a particularly arid climate, where water is scarce and must be used, or reused, intelligently. Here again, KAUST is a leader in innovation, with first-rate technological advances. For example, on wastewater reuse, a PhD student at Saudi University recently published work on a process that directly removes ammonium from wastewater in a single step, while recovering energy in the form of electric current or energy-rich hydrogen.
Through a process of removing ammonium from wastewater before it is discharged, the energy can be harnessed and used for a variety of applications. This is another promising development, especially for a country that expects water demand to increase by 40% by 2030. Because of its difficult relationship with water, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries most concerned by progress in desalination, and we devoted an article to it some time ago.
And for those who want to go further, Noura Mansouri, researcher at KAPSARC, gives her vision in this podcast.
Another example, also brought by Dr. Peng Wang, is the machine developed by the university's researchers, which would manage to "use excess heat produced by photovoltaic panels, currently unused, for the production of clean water, from salt water from the sea or contaminated water from the soil, thus making the process more sustainable, because it is more energy efficient." With one stone... how many strokes already?
We won't go back to the work on agrotech carried out by the university, because the best example is the fact that it now hosts the startup Red Sea Farms, which we presented previously by . As for the work it is doing to preserve and reintroduce into the wild several species of endangered sea turtles in the Red Sea, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the video is here:
KAUST, but not only...
King Abdullah University is not alone in working on groundbreaking scientific advances. Just this year, Alfaisal University, also based in Jeddah, unveiled its first solar and electric car. Students in the engineering department designed it in partnership with Boeing, and it shows...
The Saudi Green Initiative is also part of a more global approach, the Middle East Green Initiative, whose objective is to create a regional alliance centered around common objectives and commitments to save the planet.
In doing so, the Middle East is following in the footsteps of many other initiatives around the world. Gabon, for example, announced an astonishing and groundbreaking initiative mid-year. As one of the few countries that has long limited deforestation and therefore absorbs more carbon than it emits, Gabon is proposing to be paid by other states that must offset their emissions.
Reforestation and revegetation operations are also legion. Recently, Pakistan announced a "tsunami" of 10 billion trees while Ghana is preparing to plant 5 million trees on its territory. In Colombia, it is the city of Medellin, the second largest city in the country, which has been undergoing a transformation since 2016. On the agenda is the redevelopment of 370 hectares of urban space to create parks and bury the transport network.
Whether these initiatives will be enough to reverse the trend remains difficult to know for sure, but their multiplication and scale grows every year.