Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

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Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al-Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, and since Dec. 26, it has produced 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day. (Supplied)
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Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia and since Dec. 26 produces 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, which will supply a population equivalent of 350,000. It is one of the biggest desalination plants in Saudi Arabia in terms of capacity. (Supplied)
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Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman. (Supplied)
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Julio de la Rosa, Acciona Middle East director for water solutions. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 January 2021
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Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

  • Kingdom is third biggest consumer per capita in the world, after US and Canada

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Water Company (NWC) this month signed a $5.36 million two-year contract with a French utilities company to reduce the amount of water lost during the Kingdom’s water production process, known as non-revenue water in the industry.

This is a positive step forward, as a report released late last year by global consultancy firm Oliver Wyman found that while water usage is rising, supply is diminishing. The study estimated that 25 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that suffer extremely high water stress, and by 2050 that portion of the population will more than double.

“With water resources becoming increasingly scarce globally, the Middle East region is addressing the critical issues, with governments increasingly adopting new strategies for balancing their scarce water resources and growing demand for fresh water,” said Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman.

“This has led some countries in the Middle East to turn to options such as desalination and treatment, and reuse of wastewater,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is the third biggest consumer of water per capita in the world, after the US and Canada. The Kingdom has implemented a series of measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the aim of reducing consumption by 24 percent in 2021 and by up to 43 percent by the end of the decade.

Saudi chemical company SABIC in 2019 committed to reducing its energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage intensity by 25 percent by 2025, from 2010 levels.

As part of this drive to address this issue, the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has developed a unified water sector reference framework that includes a comprehensive water strategy that integrates national water sector trends, policies, legislation and practices with the main objective of addressing these key challenges and restructuring the sector.

Dr. Ibrahim Aref, director of the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces initiative at the ministry, told Arab News that most of the Arabian Peninsula’s water resources comes from rainfall. Yet, rainfall in the Kingdom, especially in the center of the Arabian Peninsula, is very weak compared to any other place in the world, thus causing water scarcity.

New technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination.

Bruno Sousa

Aref pointed out that even though the Arabian Peninsula in general experiences dry seasons that last for two, four or up to seven years, the Kingdom has been blessed with a strong economy and therefore has been able to work on many solutions that might be unusual elsewhere in the world, such as desalination.

According to Oliver Wyman’s Sousa, desalination can be achieved through two main technologies: Thermal and electric.

He told Arab News that thermal technology consists of heating water and collecting the resulting evaporated pure water. “This is a very energy-intensive process, requiring both electricity and thermal energy to heat the water. As part of the process, electricity is also generated that can be injected into the electric grid.

“Electric consists mainly in reverse osmosis, where water is forced through membranes that remove salt ... it is also an energy-intensive process, but only requires electricity to run,” he said.

“Although thermal desalination is still used, reverse osmosis is the mainstream technology, adopted mainly because of lower costs (including with energy) and a higher rate of potable water conversion from seawater,” he added.

Independent of the technology used, Sousa said that the desalination process will result in potable water and a high-concentrated saline effluent (brine), that requires disposal.

“Brine is commonly discharged back to the ocean, in case of seawater desalination, but other applications can be applied, such as use in agriculture in saline-tolerant crops, making building materials, or further treatment can be done to recover valuable products in the brine, including sodium, lithium and bromine.”

Sousa said that new technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination.

Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al-Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, and since Dec. 26, it has produced 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, which will supply a population of 350,000. It is one of the biggest desalination plants in Saudi Arabia in terms of capacity.

Acciona completed the testing program and the commissioning of the plant remotely through a team in Madrid, using digital twin technology.

According to Julio de la Rosa, Acciona Middle East director for water solutions, a digital twin is a full virtual model of a process, product or service with the capacity to replicate with accuracy what outcome will be obtained under certain conditions.

“This pairing of the virtual and physical worlds allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to head off problems before they even occur, prevent downtime, develop new opportunities and even plan for the future by using simulations,” he added.

He said that the technology allowed the commissioning of the plant to remain on schedule in spite of the travel restrictions in force because of the pandemic.

“Using advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence, the desalination plant’s start-up equipment, control system programs, water and electrical circuits were tested and put into operation with remote supervision,” la Rosa said.

He believes that artificial intelligence and robotics has a lot of potential applications within the desalination sector. “Perhaps repetitive, checkup or inspection tasks can be developed by robots designed for industrial environments,” he said.

Desalination is not the only way the Kingdom is looking to address the issue of water shortages. One of the largest programs being undertaken by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces in the southwest of the Kingdom.

The project aims to increase the efficiency of water use for agricultural purposes and to rely on renewable sources that contribute to food security, rural development and increased productivity of strategic crops.

Aref, who is in charge of the project, said rainfall was the focus of attention. “This is one of the important means in the field of agriculture and water security. We take advantage of every drop that falls from the sky … to make sure that farmers continue to farm and families can live.”

The Oliver Wyman report said that addressing this issue has direct economic benefits and can impact gross domestic product by up to 6 percent, making initiatives such as the Suez and Acciona deals ever more important.


China’s used vehicle exports rise exponentially

Updated 03 March 2024
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China’s used vehicle exports rise exponentially

  • Efforts have been made to streamline export procedures and enhance the used car export industrial framework, signaling the untapped potential within this sector

RIYADH: China has recorded a significant rise in the export of used cars over the last five years, a report in the People’s Daily Online showed.

According to the report, since the inception of a pilot program in 2019 aimed at exporting used automobiles, the number of vehicles dispatched from China witness a rise of over 250 percent in 2022 reaching 69,000 units, a substantial increase from approximately 15,000 units in the previous year. A substantial portion of these exports consists of new energy vehicles with Tianjin municipality, located in North China, being one of the pioneering cities for such exports. 

Enterprises within Tianjin’s Dongjiang bonded zone successfully exported a variety of vehicles, including engineering and commercial vehicles, alongside traditional and new energy passenger cars. Currently, NEVs constitute over 70 percent of the zone’s total used car exports.

The market for China’s used cars has expanded globally, reaching more than 140 countries, as highlighted at the 2023 annual conference of China’s automotive distribution industry. The primary destinations include five Central Asian countries, several African nations, and parts of Southeast Asia. Additionally, Russia has emerged as a key market since 2022.

The Russian market has shown consistent growth, with the European market also gaining momentum amid an energy crisis, leading to a significant increase in exports to both Western and Eastern Europe.

Efforts have been made to streamline export procedures and enhance the used car export industrial framework, signaling the untapped potential within this sector. With 435 million motor vehicles reported on China’s roads in 2023, the need for new markets is evident due to the vast vehicle population and the rapid turnover of cars.

Policy support has played a critical role in the expansion of used car exports. In July 2023, measures to boost automobile consumption were introduced, including incentives for exporting used cars that meet specific quality standards. Subsequent guidelines and support measures were announced, culminating in a notice issued on Feb. 7 to expand used car export operations nationwide.


Number of registered nonprofit organizations in Saudi Arabia hits 4,656

Updated 03 March 2024
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Number of registered nonprofit organizations in Saudi Arabia hits 4,656

RIYADH: The total number of registered nonprofit organizations in Saudi Arabia has reached 4,656 with the addition of 85 new firms in the sector in February, official data showed.

The National Center for Non-Profit Sector also revealed that the total number of volunteers in 2024 reached more than 113,000 across various fields.

The center disclosed that the sector recorded more than 4 million volunteer hours and over 43,000 volunteering prospects.

The surge aligns with the center’s aim to organize, activate, and expand the role of nonprofit sector organizations in different fields.

Moreover, the growth in number confirms NCNPS endeavors to work on integrating government efforts in providing licensing services to these organizations, financial, administrative, and technical supervision of the sector, and increasing coordination and support.

The center also said warnings were issued to 11 civil society entities in 2024. Furthermore, it said one entity was directed to dismiss its board of directors, and two others were instructed to reconstitute their respective board of directors temporarily.

It also urged nonprofit organizations to increase collaboration with the center and compliance with the rules and regulations to ensure increased contribution to the Kingdom’s growth.

In June, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi lauded the Kingdom’s nonprofit sector for its work toward the realization of Saudi Vision 2030 goals.

Al-Rajhi said that the nonprofit sector played a significant role in national development, creating “sustainable impacts” and establishing robust partnerships with community institutions and individuals through the implementation of “many outstanding projects”, SPA said at the time.

Al-Rajhi, who is also chairman of the National Center for Non-Profit Sector, noted at the time that the expedited incorporation process for nonprofit organizations — which takes no more than four days, as opposed to 18 months previously — is “one of the most remarkable accomplishments” in the country’s recent history.


Saudi Arabia extends voluntary oil cut of 1m barrels per day until mid-2024

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend oil supply cuts through June as part of a bid to stabilize prices. (Reuters)
Updated 03 March 2024
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Saudi Arabia extends voluntary oil cut of 1m barrels per day until mid-2024

  • OPEC+ has implemented a series of output cuts since late 2022 to support the market
  • Saudi Arabia’s output will remain at around 9 million bpd

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend oil supply cuts through June as part of a bid to prop up prices.

An Energy Ministry source announced Riyadh “will extend its voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day, which was implemented in July 2023, until the end of the second quarter of 2024,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The decision was taken in coordination with other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, to ensure stability of the global crude markets.

With the extension in the production cuts, Saudi Arabia’s output will remain at around 9 million bpd.

The cuts would be reversed gradually according to market conditions, the SPA said.

Russia will cut oil production and exports by an additional 471,000 bpd in the second quarter, in coordination with some OPEC+ participating countries, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said.

OPEC+ in November agreed to voluntary cuts totaling about 2.2 million bpd for the first quarter, led by Saudi Arabia rolling over its own voluntary cut.

OPEC+ members announce the cuts individually. Kuwait said it would cut its oil output by 135,000 bpd through June, while Algeria will curb its output by 51,000 bpd and Oman will reduce output by 42,000 bpd.

OPEC+ has implemented a series of output cuts since late 2022 to support the market.


Innovative minds descend on Riyadh to explore opportunities in tech sector

Updated 03 March 2024
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Innovative minds descend on Riyadh to explore opportunities in tech sector

  • Saudi Arabia is emerging globally as a priority economy, says Tahaluf CEO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is gearing up for LEAP 2024, the world’s most-attended tech event, from March 4 to 7 at the Riyadh Exhibition and Convention Center in Malham.

The pre-event gathering on Feb 28 announced this year’s theme as “Into New Worlds,” which encompasses new opportunities, technologies, and capabilities in the tech sector.

The event is organized by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Tahaluf Co., the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, and the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority, also known as Monsha’at.

CEO of Tahaluf Michael Champion told Arab News: “Into New Worlds showcases how technology can bring new horizons to different industries and create new opportunities, much of which we once thought unachievable.”

With artificial intelligence at the heart of LEAP, speakers will discuss its applications and impact, along with other innovations and emerging technologies across the four-day event.

LEAP 2024 will cover various topics across multiple stages, including the investor stage and main stage, with discussions on educational tech, retail tech, and fintech, as well as health tech, the fourth industrial revolution, future energy, and smart cities.

FASTFACTS

  • Over 600 startups and 172,000 people are expected to attend the conference, alongside more than 1,800 global tech exhibitors.
  • The event will feature over 1,000 international and local companies in the technology sector and more than 1,000 expert speakers from 180 countries.
  • LEAP 2024 will cover various topics across multiple stages, including the investor stage and main stage.
  • Discussions will be held on educational tech, retail tech, and fintech, as well as health tech, the fourth industrial revolution, future energy, and smart cities.

Over 600 startups and 172,000 people are expected to attend the conference, alongside more than 1,800 global tech exhibitors, such as Google, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as Dell, Cisco, and Avaya.

SAP, ServiceNow, and Amazon Web Services will also be represented, alongside IBM, Alibaba, and Huawei.

The event will feature over 1,000 international and local companies in the technology sector and more than 1,000 expert speakers from 180 countries, and to accommodate this the 2024 venue is 170 percent larger than last year’s.

Saudi Arabia’s Vice Minister of Communications and Information Technology Haitham Al-Ohali is looking forward to welcoming thought leaders, influencers, investors, and innovators worldwide to LEAP.

“This edition arrives at a time when variables are accelerating, and generative artificial intelligence is a critical turning point at the economic and social levels,” said Al-Ohali.

Champion told Arab News that Saudi Arabia is emerging globally as a priority economy. For many, traveling to Riyadh will unveil a new world for them.

“We’re getting 70,000 registrations from abroad — business tourists, many of whom have never traveled to the Kingdom before,” said the CEO.

He said attendees can meet with key decision-makers through LEAP and create new partnerships.

Among the most prominent speakers and experts are Vice President & former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane; CEO and President of Ericsson Borje Ekholm; and Chairman and CEO of IBM Arvind Krishna.

Other global figures include Government Chief Data Officer at the Republic of Estonia Ott Velsberg; Chief AI Officer at Schneider Electric Philippe Rambach; President and CEO of Nokia Pekka Lundmark; and Martin Vilig, co-founder of Bolt.

Champion said: “These are massive, global companies and their CEOs are all coming to this event, and I believe this is a real testimony to how important people are seeing Saudi Arabia now as a change-maker when it comes to technology and investments.”

Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha said that the third LEAP event will strengthen Saudi Arabia’s position as a hub for innovation and technology, attracting investment to this region.

There will be multiple memorandums of understanding signing stations all over the exhibition to facilitate agreements and deals.

“During LEAP, we announce billions of dollars of projects and significant MoU signings because we take seriously the need to use the event as a platform for business deals to happen,” said Champion.

The 2023 edition of the event saw more than $11 billion worth of deals and agreements reached, and its estimated 172,000 attendees helped cement LEAP as the biggest tech conference in the world.

The event will feature 10 stages discussing various aspects of technology, including health, education, and e-commerce. Among the 10, the main stage sessions will be aired live on LEAP 2024 social media platforms.

LEAP will host the investor stage, where the world’s top investors will discuss innovative investment opportunities. This stage will also address topics such as the intersection of technology with government policies and innovation, and successful financing strategies.

It will also feature the Startup Stage, where expert speakers such as Blossom Accelerator CEO and founder Emon Shakoor, Raiven Capital founding partner Supreet Singh Manchanda, and Adaverse founding partner Vincent Li will discuss startup growth and innovation.

The Rocket Fuel Pitch competition returns for Saudi and foreign startups, with prizes exceeding $1 million. Categories include the LEAP Award, worth $250,000 for the most outstanding startup across the whole competition; the Shooting Star Award, which allocates $150,000 for the early-stage startup beginning its journey; and the Aviatrix Award, which will see $150,000 given to the most innovative startup pioneered by women founders.

The Technology for Humanity Award will also come with a prize of $150,000, this time for the startup that best embodies the “tech for humanity” spirit of LEAP, while another $150,000 is given to the winner of the Into New Worlds Award for the most impressive startup occupying the Metaverse and Web 3.0 space,

The final $150,000 prize is part of the Artificial Intelligence Award for the startup that presents the most exciting, ground-breaking use of AI.

Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones CEO Muteb Al-Qani said that they are keen to present a special experience to the visitors, as we will gather top speakers and tech experts from around the world.

“This event has been created to empower technology globally; therefore, the upcoming edition brings together the largest tech companies, startups, and investors, all under one roof, which has the potential to lead to numerous investments and launches,” he said.


Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,555 

Updated 03 March 2024
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Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 12,555 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Sunday, losing 75.66 points, or 0.60 percent, to close at 12,555.20. 

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR8.19 billion ($2.18 billion) as 82 of the stocks advanced, while 134 retreated.   

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu rose 559.57 points, or 2.12 percent, to close at 26,962.39. This comes as 32 of the stocks advanced, while as many as 31 retreated. 

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index slipped 14.06 points, or 0.87 percent, to close at 1,609.62. 

The best-performing stock of the day was Al-Rajhi Co. for Cooperative Insurance. The company’s share price surged 9.92 percent to SR93.10.  

Other top performers included Saudi Steel Pipe Co. as well as Middle East Pharmaceutical Industries Co.

Conversely, Mobile Telecommunication Co. Saudi Arabia, also known as Zain KSA, experienced the most significant decline, with its share price dropping by 6.31 percent to SR13.96. Other underperformers in the market were Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co. and Hail Cement Co. 

On the announcements front, Arabian Centres Co. has reported the successful completion of the offering of $500 million worth of US dollar-denominated Shariah-compliant sukuk. 

According to a statement from Tadawul, the company anticipates that the issuance will be credit-neutral. The proceeds from the issuance are intended for the refinancing of its 2019 sukuk, set to mature in November 2024. 

With a maturity of five years, the total number of sukuk stands at 2,500 with a par value of $200,000 and a return of 9.5 percent.  

Moreover, Zain KSA has announced its annual consolidated financial results for the year ending Dec. 31.  

A bourse filing revealed that the firm’s net profit reached SR1.26 billion, reflecting a 130 percent surge compared to the same period in 2022.  

The rise is primarily attributed to the company achieving its highest-ever revenues, totaling SR9.9 billion in 2023, marking an 8.9 percent growth compared to 2022. This surge in revenue resulted in a 7 percent increase in the cost of revenue. 

In addition to this, gross profit increased by 10 percent, representing SR541 million, as a result of the growth in the high-margin segments. 

Furthermore, Saudi Real Estate Co. also announced its annual financial results for the year 2023. According to a Tadawul statement, the company’s net profit hit SR67.6 million in the period ending on Dec. 31, down 38.82 percent in comparison to 2022 figures.  

The drop is mainly attributed to an increase in financial charges by SR96 million due to the significant rise in interest rates as well as a climb in net losses in one of the subsidiaries due to the recording of extraordinary losses of SR46 million in one of its projects.