Saudi firm harnesses power from the sun

Private solar firms such as Desert Technologies are helping to establish renewable energy in countries worldwide. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 March 2021
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Saudi firm harnesses power from the sun

  • KSA targets 9.5 GW of renewable energy by 2023
  • Kingdom aims to reduce hydrocarbons reliance

DUBAI: In the past decade, the world has witnessed a pressing need for a major transformation from conventional energy sources to renewables starting with planned efforts in limiting the global temperature from rising to 2.0ºC (3.6˚F) for the present century.

A number of producer economies have recognized the need to diversify their energy production while simultaneously seeking to diversify their economies by putting energy transitions at the heart of their development strategies. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has, in turn, experienced an emergence of a solar sector as part of its economic diversification plans under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Saudi businessman Khaled Ahmad Sharbatly, the managing partner of Desert Technologies, which specializes in solar energy, offers insight into how the launch of the solar industry in the Kingdom prompted business development and outlines both the opportunities and barriers for the country’s expansion into “yellow gold.”

In addition to his position in Desert Technologies, Sharbatly, 26, has undertaken courses at the UN, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law, and completed a fellowship from the International Monetary Fund that was only given to 20 people around the world. He holds two posts, one in the Chinese-Saudi Business Council and another in the industrial council of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, where he is leading the team for the general overview of sustainable manufacturing that is focused on supporting industries that have been affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and how they can have a sustainable recovery.

Having spoken at over 15 international conferences, including the Business Twenty (B20) the official business community engagement forum for the Group of Twenty (G20), the World Future Energy Summit (WFES), Intersolar, and others within the span of two years, Sharbatly describes himself as an active sustainability and renewable energy influencer that promotes sustainable development initiatives within personal and professional environments.

While the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 provides for the transformation of Saudi Aramco into a multi-sectoral industrial powerhouse, private solar firms, such as Desert Technologies, have already sprung with growing expectations about the market, carving their position within the industry with projects in 26 countries worth more than $200 million.

Sharbatly said that his decision to dive into the renewable energy industry was prompted by the Vision 2030 goals of revolutionizing environmental sustainability, which ultimately leads to the capitalization of the growing demand for sustainable investments.

“In 2016, when the initial draft of the Saudi Vision 2030 was released, I took a look at that draft and I saw where our country was heading in the next 15 years,” Sharbatly said.

“I saw that sustainability was a huge component of it. Getting out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy is an area of huge strength for the Kingdom because we are the energy suppliers of the world.

“So if we change from fossil fuels to gas, from gas to hydrogen, from hydrogen to solar or from solar to wind, it would be indifferent as we can build the industry, given that we have the supply chain, the logistics and the full infrastructure for that. It is much more attainable than many other industries, and in terms of logistics, we have two of the largest ports in the red sea, almost 70 percent of the world’s trade goes through us.”

Saudi Arabia’s socio-economic development in recent decades has been driven by oil-and-gas revenues. The vast wealth it pumped out was a major contributor to the government’s budget revenues, paying not only for the glistening skyscrapers but also for a government sector that employs a high percentage of Saudis.

With its vast deserts, the Kingdom is now linking its future to another natural resource it has in even greater abundance: sunlight.

The Saudi government has set a target of generating 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2023, which will generate enough electricity to power around 40,000 homes.

“Even though we have an impressive natural potential for solar and wind power, and our local energy consumption will increase threefold by 2030, we still lack a competitive renewable energy sector at present. To build up the sector, we have set ourselves an initial target of generating 9.5 gigawatts of renewable energy,” a Saudi cabinet statement said on the Saudi Vision 2030.

Forming part of the GCC, Saudi Arabia lies within the so-called “global sunbelt” and has some of the highest solar irradiances in the world with over 3,000 hours of sunlight annually. Around 60 percent of the region’s surface area has been found to have a particularly high level of suitability for solar PV deployment, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

“Currently we work through the company’s factory in Jeddah to collect and market solar panels produced in Saudi Arabia for use in multiple facilities such as schools, exhibitions, mosques, factories, warehouses and soon homes all over the Kingdom to reduce the kilowatt price for companies and individuals,” Sharbatly said.

Representing a firm that is taking advantage of its country's most abundant clean-energy source, Sharbatly said Desert Technologies builds the smart infrastructure of the future, powered by the sun.

“Smart infrastructure is a wide array of products and services to be developed, constructed, or manufactured and that is what we do — we manufacture, we develop and we construct,” Sharbatly said. “We manufacture solar panels, we manufacture power plants, invest in power plants by selling electricity and we construct plants.

“Today, we will invest in smart infrastructures such as utility-scale projects or the regular solar panel projects that can be seen on roofs or grounds. Solar plus battery, solar plus diesel, hybrid systems, and also powering vehicles using renewable energy, because we think there is a huge field where we are trying to be sustainable and buy electric vehicles. But we are powering them using conventional electricity, or we buy energy-efficient refrigerators that save money, which defeats the objective,” Sharbatly said.

Smart infrastructure essentially leverages data and digital connectivity to improve certain functions, including sustainable energy management. That aims to help in achieving a lower carbon footprint through the production of more efficient infrastructure and planning.

“We are trying to power all these products that have already taken a step towards sustainability with real sustainable sources of energy. It is solar today, but in the future, it could be something else as we are flexible and technology agnostic,” Sharbatly said.

“Sustainability is Vision 2030 — how can we build a country that is not dependent on one major source of income but have sustainable development across all sectors such as social, governmental, environmental, commercial, for the future,” Sharbatly said.

“The country’s location and climate mean it has plenty of promising sites for solar and even wind farms.”

The abundance of solar resource potential primarily indicated by its strategic location, accompanied by the recent fall in global oil prices and the falling cost of associated technologies, such as photovoltaic (PV) modules are major factors influencing the appeal of solar energy in the country. The costs of installing and operating such technologies have fallen drastically around the world in recent years, which means that even in a country where oil is copious, renewables still beckon as a cheap and clean alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

“Today solar is around 90 percent cheaper than oil and gas,” Sharbatly said.

“The first step onwards to this transition is hybrid solutions. Hybrid solutions are the first gateway to complete renewable energy or a 100-percent clean energy future. Today we have oil, we have power plants, we have diesel generators and we are not going to replace them as the energy demand is increasing, even if it is at a small rate. It is still increasing and we cannot convince people to throw away investments that they have made and bring something else when they have not made the return yet. This is the world view, not just my view. We have to transition into sustainability and into a sustainable grid powered by sustainable energy sources.”

The initial driver behind the Saudi government’s interest in the use of solar power was its intention to diversify its energy mix towards alternative sources, including renewables in order to preserve domestic energy production for export amid rising domestic consumption of oil for power generation.

“Oil, coal, gas, or any other source of energy will never, at least for the next 100 years, be out of the energy mix,” Sharbatly said. “We will use these fossil fuels to create all sorts of products. That's the true value of fossil fuels — to create value and products, instead of burning them to create electricity. We can make electricity in cheaper, cleaner ways.”

The global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, which is a 1.9 billion increase from 2020, according to the UN. Concurrently, as urbanization continues, the proportion of the population living in urban areas will increase to around 66 percent by 2050, up from 30 percent in 1950.

Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh will at least double in size from its current population of around 7.5 million people by 2030. The country’s population will reach 45 million by 2050, implying a population increase of about 13.5 million from 2015. Meanwhile, the proportion of the urban population will increase at a dramatically higher rate than other countries, to under 90 percent by 2050, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

This high rate of population growth and urbanization has driven a rise in domestic energy and electricity demand. Peak electricity load in Saudi Arabia, for instance, has been rising by 7 percent every year. Electricity consumption has grown from 186.5 Terawatt hour (TWh) in 2008 to 345.05TWh in 2018, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) data. Further increase in such trends inevitably poses significant questions for sustainability and is anticipated to place unparalleled pressures on energy demand and supply.

In line with these trends, Desert Technologies has started working on the expansion of its factory from 100 MW to 200 MW yearly production, which is indicative of the heightened demand for renewables in the region. In 2021, the company plans to increase its presence within the Middle East and signed four projects by February. Two of the projects are in Saudi Arabia, one is in Bahrain and the one in Egypt is set to be completed by 2022.

The firm’s goals for the next five years echo such expansions, with intentions of accumulating projects in the Middle East and Africa. In Asia, Desert Technologies will be doing up to $3.5 billion of work, with a specific focus on the small to medium scale on-grid and off-grid solutions, according to Sharbatly. It also plans on releasing two other companies, one of which is a development company that will be released as a joint venture.

Furthermore, the firm seeks to grow in Southeast Asia and Latin America to further build its track record. Sharbatly mentioned Japan as a particular country of interest.

“They are very advanced in technology and there is an incredible relationship between Saudi Arabia and Japan,” Sharbatly said. “There is a big presence of Japanese companies, bands and investors in Saudi and vice versa. We are amazed by how advanced they are. Also, we like their work ethic, we like their honesty and culture, all of which we think fits with ours.”

Sharbatly then discussed why renewable energy is not being utilized fully in Saudi Arabia, despite the availability of necessary resources and the challenges associated with such an energy transition.

“To localize an industry is not an easy job and Saudi is trying to start where everyone else has finished,” he said.

“It requires a huge investment in infrastructure, training, building facilities because it is pointless to invest in building power plants or to allow companies to come and bid for building power plants when the jobs they are going to be making as a developer or contractor are short-term jobs. The strategic value in localizing an industry is creating manufacturing industries where there are long-term jobs that require highly skilled people and require universities and highly skilled programs to really support the training of these people. Just like we have excelled in oil and gas, we can excel in this.”

Sharbatly said COVID-19 has delayed the process.

“It needs time — time to build state-of-the-art facilities, to sign with suppliers from around the world and localize the industry,” he said. “The government right now is really focused on health and saving the lives of its people, but hopefully in the upcoming year and in 2022 there will be a lot of very good news on new manufacturing facilities, including ours.”

Another reason such a transition requires time is those energy transition pathways that imply an imminent peak and then a steep drop in oil demand would result in sharply reduced revenues for many countries.

This year’s coronavirus-induced decrease in oil demand and the subsequent impact on prices put this challenge in stark relief. It demonstrates not only the effect a rapid transition would have on the world economy, but also provides an admonitory observation of the future if success is not achieved in the diversification efforts of key producer economies.

Pointing out that once electricity is generated, it cannot be stored, except in limited amounts using batteries, but can be sent long distances across the grid, Sharbatly said: “Storage today is quite competitive, especially from unsubsidized energy. In countries like Saudi or the GCC, storage is very difficult because it is more expensive than the energy you get from the government, while in Africa it is much cheaper.”

The storage of excess energy produced still presents a problem due to limited storage capacities and overproduction that can result in losses. Consequently, one of the main objectives of building sustainable smart infrastructure is to enable the adaptation of energy production to actual demand. This entails the achievement of demand-oriented production that can, with proper infrastructure and planning, allow immediate consumption of produced energy.

The development of different sectors of smart infrastructures, such as smart energy and smart transportation would enable the accumulation of real-world data that can be interconnected for use among different services.

Desert Technologies also plays a role in assisting Saudi Arabia in becoming a renewable-energy exporter and supplier through their major operations in developing and emerging markets that use solar PV panels manufacturing in the country.

For example, Desert Technologies was a co-developer for several solar photovoltaic projects in Benban, Egypt, which is one of the world’s largest solar farms. This includes the ARC Project, which has the capacity to generate 65.7 megawatt (MW) of energy, the Winnergy Project, with a 24.9MW generation capacity and the Arinna Project, with a 24.9MW generation capacity. The electricity generated from these plants is sold to the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC) under a 25-year power purchase agreement. Cumulatively, Benban’s fields consist of 6 million panels that produce 1.5 gigawatts (gw) of energy, which is enough to power more than one million homes.

While many countries are now exploring ways to stimulate social and economic growth through the development of the renewable energy sector within their own parameters, Desert Technologies has chosen to target less economically developed countries to promote sustainable economic development.

In 2019, there were 771 million people without electricity access, which was a record low. This was enabled through the use of grid electrification as the primary source of energy access gained since 2000, according to data from World Energy Outlook 2018. Despite such progress, the world remains far from achieving SDG targets to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030. The population without access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa remains at 579 million, amounting to 56 percent of the population.

The manufacturing division at Desert Technologies called “DT Labs” invests in research and development to create new and better solutions. The current areas of infrastructure innovation include the development of solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations and solar street lamps that can provide Wi-Fi and phone charging services. The company is also developing mini-grid systems that reuse lithium-ion batteries, from cars or computers, to build economic and efficient mini-grid and off-grid solar systems in Africa.

The challenges associated with electricity provision in developing countries extend beyond the sphere of private investment and involve difficulties associated with infrastructure. The innovative approaches to solving the problem by Desert Technologies demonstrate how international investments in renewable energy can provide key resources and help in the creation of enabling environments through the provision of sustainable, efficient, and equitable electricity in regions critical to the global climate future.

The oil and gas producers in the Middle East and North Africa region are conscious of the potential adverse impacts of climate change and the impact it will have on their economies, given their current dependence on oil and gas revenues. This makes the way in which the increasing energy demand across the region is met highly significant, and the argument for renewables, particularly solar PV, in obtaining a larger role in the energy mix, even more compelling.

Desert Technologies, with its ambitious projects that are already yielding results throughout the region, serves as one example of how the Kingdom can leverage its abundant resources, domestic expertise and competitive advantage in energy production. Linking energy and industrial transformations to optimize new opportunities will simultaneously position Saudi Arabia in the new energy market.


Alandalus Property commences $222m commercial center in Makkah

Updated 17 sec ago
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Alandalus Property commences $222m commercial center in Makkah

RIYADH: Saudi holy city Makkah is set to see a boost in its commercial infrastructure with Alandalus Property Co. commencing construction on an SR831 million ($222 million) project. 

In a statement to Tadawul, the Saudi-based real estate firm announced the start of work on a new commercial center in the Makkah Al-Mukarramah region, spanning over 50,650 sq. m. 

The center is designed to include 350 rental units, such as showrooms, retail spaces, hypermarkets, entertainment areas, and dining options. It will also feature parking facilities for 1,800 vehicles. 

Alandalus’ move underscores its commitment to enhancing Makkah’s commercial capabilities. This project follows recent expansions by UAE-based Lulu Group, which launched two new projects in Makkah and Madinah earlier this year. 

“According to the developer’s report, the optimal final engineering design for the project was chosen from a group of designs prepared by the most skilled engineering offices in the Kingdom,” said Alandalus in the Tadawul statement.  

It added that construction is underway with all necessary municipal permits secured, and the center is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2027. 

The project is being developed by Masat Property Co., a joint venture between Alandalus and Buroj International, with Hamat Holding Co., in which Alandalus holds a 25 percent stake, overseeing construction. 

Funding for the project will be primarily sourced from bank loans, with supplementary contributions from the partners’ own resources. 

The ongoing development projects are set to significantly enhance infrastructure in Makkah and Madinah, supporting their transformation into leading hubs for business and tourism. 

In December 2022, the Makkah Chamber of Commerce, Madinah Chamber of Commerce, and the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture signed the Manafea agreement, aimed at transforming these holy cities into pivotal financial and business hubs in the Islamic world. 

In a separate update, Alandalus reported a 67 percent decline in net profit for the first quarter of 2024, falling to SR4.7 million compared to the same period last year.  

The drop was attributed to higher financing costs and increased expenses in the hospitality and office sectors.  

It added that consolidated revenue also decreased by 2.70 percent year-on-year to SR53 million, driven by a 6 percent decline in the retail and operations segment. 


Saudi-China financial markets enter new era with ETFs listed on Chinese bourses: PIF 

Updated 26 min 2 sec ago
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Saudi-China financial markets enter new era with ETFs listed on Chinese bourses: PIF 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China’s financial markets will see a new chapter of connectivity with the recent launch of exchange-traded funds on Chinese bourses, according to Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. 

At the listing event in Shenzhen, Al-Rumayyan stressed that the ETF gives investors in Asia access to the Saudi equity market and its sustainable long-term growth driven by strategic economic transformation. 

Last week, two new ETFs focused on the Kingdom’s stocks debuted in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The feeder funds, operating under the Qualified Domestic Institutional Investor program, began trading on July 16, with both briefly hitting the 10 percent daily limit on their launch day. 

The first fund, CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF QDII, managed by China Southern Asset Management, is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange after raising 634 million Chinese yuan ($87 million).  

The second fund, the Huatai-PineBridge managed CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF QDII, started trading on the Shanghai Stock Exchange after raising 590 million Chinese yuan. 

These new ETFs are among the first batch of funds in China able to invest in the Saudi Arabia stock market. 

PIF aims to attract foreign investors and deepen capital inflows into Saudi Arabia, continuing from the success of the CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF introduced on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in November 2023. This fund, launched with an initial investment of over $1 billion, including a $500 million contribution from PIF, became the world's largest Saudi Arabian ETF. 


Saudi Arabia launches competition for 5 licenses to boost mineral exploration

Updated 21 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia launches competition for 5 licenses to boost mineral exploration

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has unveiled its largest mineralized belts to date, spanning 4,788 sq. km and including five new exploration licenses. 

Three of the permits, which were offered to local and global firms, are reserved for the Jabal Sayid site in Madinah.  

It covers an area of 2,892 sq. km and entails minerals like gold, silver, copper, zinc, and lead, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources.  

The remaining two licenses pertain to the Al-Hajjar Site in the Asir region, which encompasses 1,896 sq. km and also includes gold, silver, copper, zinc, and lead. 

This initiative aims to accelerate the exploration and development of Saudi Arabia's mineral resources, valued at SR9.3 trillion ($2.4 trillion).  

This is in line with Saudi Arabia’s ambition to transform mining into a foundational industrial pillar of the country’s economy. It also aligns with the ministry’s goal to further bolster the sector and contribute to ongoing developments under Saudi Vision 2030.    
 


Global electricity demand to grow by 4% in 2024: IEA 

Updated 21 July 2024
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Global electricity demand to grow by 4% in 2024: IEA 

RIYADH: Global electricity demand is expected to rise by around 4 percent this year, up from 2.5 percent in 2023, driven by robust economic growth, according to an analysis.  

In its latest report, the International Energy Agency highlighted that intense heatwaves and the growing adoption of electricity-powered technologies, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, are driving the increase in global electricity demand. 

Many regions experienced severe heatwaves in the first half of 2024, which heightened electricity needs and strained power grids. May was the hottest month of the year, marking the 12th consecutive month of record-high temperatures. 

India, Mexico, Pakistan, the US, Vietnam, and several other countries experienced severe heatwaves in the first half of the year, leading to surging peak loads due to increased cooling needs. 

“Growth in global electricity demand this year and next is set to be among the fastest in the past two decades, highlighting the growing role of electricity in our economies as well as the impacts of severe heatwaves,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of Energy Markets and Security at IEA.  

The energy agency added that more households, especially in emerging economies, have started to purchase air conditioners, further driving electricity demand in these regions. 

The IEA also emphasized that adopting higher efficiency standards for air conditioning is crucial to mitigate the impact of increased cooling demand on power systems. 

The report also highlighted that expanding and reinforcing power grids is essential for ensuring a reliable electricity supply. 

The IEA noted that renewables are rapidly advancing globally, with solar photovoltaic set to achieve new records. 

India and China to drive growth 

The energy think tank further noted that this rise in electricity demand growth will be driven by countries like India, China, and the US.  

“We expect this demand trend to continue in 2025, with growth also at 4 percent. In both 2024 and 2025, the rise in the world’s electricity use is projected to be significantly higher than global GDP (gross domestic product) growth of 3.2 percent. In 2022 and 2023, electricity demand grew more slowly than GDP,” the IEA added.  

According to the analysis, electricity demand in China is forecast to increase by 6.5 percent in 2024, similar to its average rate between 2016 and 2019.  

India will witness an 8 percent rise in electricity consumption in 2024, matching its rapid growth in 2023.  

“In the first half of 2024, the country (India) grappled with heatwaves of record duration, with peak load reaching a new high and putting exceptional strains on power systems. Assuming a return to average weather conditions, we expect electricity demand growth in India to ease moderately to 6.8 percent in 2025,” the IEA added.  

The report further highlighted that electricity demand in the US is set to rebound significantly in 2024, increasing by 3 percent year-on-year, driven by a positive economic outlook and the rising need for air conditioning amid severe heatwaves.  

In the EU, demand is expected to increase by 1.7 percent as economic difficulties ease, but uncertainty over the pace of growth remains.  

“EU electricity consumption had contracted over the two previous years, with the decline in output from energy-intensive industries an important driver. Signs of a recovery in EU electricity demand emerged starting in the fourth quarter of 2023,” said the IEA.  

It added: “Growth gained further traction during the first half of 2024 as energy prices stabilized and various industries that had previously curtailed operations restarted.”  

Clean energy sources  

According to the analysis, despite a sharp rise in power consumption, solar PV alone is expected to meet roughly half of the growth in global electricity demand by 2025.  

IEA further noted that global electricity generation from solar PV and wind is expected to surpass that from hydropower in 2024.  

“The global energy transition is set to achieve another significant milestone by 2025, with total renewable generation poised to overtake coal-fired electricity output. The share of renewables in global electricity supply rose to 30 percent in 2023 and is projected to climb further to 35 percent in 2025,” said the IEA.  

Despite the sharp increases in renewables, global power generation from coal is unlikely to decline this year due to the strong growth in demand, especially in China and India.  

The study highlighted that carbon dioxide emissions from the global power sector are plateauing, with a slight increase in 2024 followed by a decline in 2025.  

“It’s encouraging to see clean energy’s share of the electricity mix continuing to rise, but this needs to happen at a much faster rate to meet international energy and climate goals,” said Sadamori.  

He added: “At the same time, it’s crucial to expand and reinforce grids to provide citizens with secure and reliable electricity supply – and to implement higher energy efficiency standards to reduce the impacts of increased cooling demand on power systems.”  

Meanwhile, Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said that the energy industry should urgently reduce its carbon emissions if the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change in the coming decades, according to a press statement.  

“About 80 percent of emissions that cause climate change come from fossil fuels. This is the reason there is a need to reduce emissions if we want a planet in the future that is like it is today,” Birol told the Al-Attiyah Foundation in a podcast interview.  

He added: ‘This doesn’t mean that tomorrow we will not need fossil fuels, but the share of fossil fuels needs to decline. If we don’t, we will face catastrophic implications like floods, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Continuing with the current fossil fuel-based energy system is not good news for anybody— producers and consumers alike.”  

In the latest report, the IEA also projected that global nuclear generation is on track to reach a new high in 2025, surpassing its previous record in 2021.  

According to the energy agency, nuclear generation is forecast to rise globally by 1.6 percent in 2024 and by 3.5 percent in 2025, driven by a steady increase in output by the French nuclear power fleet as maintenance works are completed.  

The restarting of reactors in Japan and the arrival of new reactors in various markets, including China, India, Korea, and Europe, support the growth in nuclear power generation globally.  

The report also noted that the rise of artificial intelligence has put the electricity consumption of data centers in focus, making better stocktaking more important than ever. 

“In many regions, historical estimates of data centers’ electricity consumption are hampered by a lack of reliable data. At the same time, future projections include a very wide range of uncertainties related to the pace of deployment, the diverse and expanding applications of AI, and the potential for energy efficiency improvements,” said the IEA.  

It added: “Expanding and improving the collection of electricity demand data from the sector will be crucial to identify past developments correctly and to understand future trends better.”


AlUla participates in global forums to strengthen Saudi-China cultural ties

Updated 21 July 2024
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AlUla participates in global forums to strengthen Saudi-China cultural ties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China have deepened their cultural ties as the Royal Commission for AlUla participated in key global forums in Istanbul and Luoyang.  

The RCU attended the Silk Road Dialogue and the International Ancient Capitals Forum to enhance collaboration and showcase AlUla as the world’s “largest living museum.” 

The events, held from June 27 to 30, underscored AlUla’s prominent role within the International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities, a network connecting 63 destinations across 28 countries along ancient trade routes.  

The forums were instrumental in expanding Saudi-China cultural partnerships and organizing official visits to AlUla. 

Saudi Arabia’s strategic focus on tourism, centered around AlUla’s rich heritage, has become a cornerstone in deepening cultural and economic ties with China, showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to leveraging its historical assets to foster international partnerships. 

Discussions at the International Ancient Capitals Forum included high-level meetings with Luoyang officials on tourism, agriculture, conservation, and urban development, exploring new areas of cooperation between the two nations. 

“The Royal Commission for AlUla continues to build on the deep-rooted foundations of cultural partnership that exists between China, the Kingdom, and northwest Arabia,” said an RCU spokesperson in a statement. 

The spokesperson added: “The Silk Road Dialogue and International Ancient Capitals Forum events represented exciting opportunities to develop new avenues of collaboration, with a focus on expanding knowledge exchange and promoting tourism, with diverse initiatives built upon our shared status as ancient destinations and rapidly developing landmarks for human heritage.” 

The forum was launched to foster dialogue and collaboration between cities with a millennia-long history. It also facilitates an agreement signed earlier this year between AlUla and its Chinese partners at the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.  

The partnership seeks to enhance knowledge and shared resources, focusing on archeology, preserving cultural heritage and museums and research collaboration as well as talent development, tourism and other cultural exchanges. 

It also includes establishing a technology-driven archeological laboratory, conducting excavation activities, engaging in research and fostering connections between heritage sites in AlUla and Henan. 

The deal further involved implementing collaborative exchange programs, participating in exhibitions and events, and utilizing museum technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality.