CERAWeek Diary: Across the bridge, a real piece of Saudi tech in Houston fantasy land

US Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), speaks with reporters about US energy policy and climate change at the IHS Markit CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2019
0

CERAWeek Diary: Across the bridge, a real piece of Saudi tech in Houston fantasy land

  • The first thing that greets you is straight out of Ad Diriyah — an awesome-looking racing car complete with Saudi Aramco speed flashes and tail-fins you could build a garden patio on
  • Wedged into a corner is another Aramco-badged vehicle — a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, fitted with the company’s revolutionary gasoline compression ignition engine

HOUSTON: Take a trip across the “skybridge” from the Hilton Americas hotel to the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, and you are in a different world. Is it Saudi Arabia? Is it ancient Rome? Is it the depths of the Permian Basin? It’s all very confusing.
The bridge — really just a third-floor walkway with views over the pleasant greenery of central Houston — links the CERAWeek by IHS Markit energy forum with its hip overspill area, the Innovation Agora.
It also contains the Lyceum Workshops interactive program; with all these classical allusions you might expect to find a crowd of toga-clad sybarites reclining in the vomitorium, plucking lyres and demanding their grapes be peeled.
But not many Texans are like that, in my experience. Those here settled instead for chicken satay and peanut sauce canapes.
The first thing that greets you is straight out of Ad Diriyah, near Riyadh — an awesome-looking racing car complete with Saudi Aramco speed flashes and tail-fins you could build a garden patio on. It is a vehicle from the Kingdom’s recent Formula E event, and would turn many heads, even in Houston’s bling-laden Avenida.
Take a stroll around and you will find another example of the Kingdom’s high-tech prowess. Wedged into a corner is another Aramco-badged vehicle — a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, fitted with the company’s revolutionary gasoline compression ignition engine, designed for more efficient and cleaner motoring. One Agoran asked: “How did they get it parked there?”
Close by is the Aramco “partner house,” a corporate space given over to strategic partners of CERAWeek, which the Saudi energy giant has been for years. Bathed in Aramco’s company colors of blue and green, you marvel at wireless sensors the size of golf balls, anti-corrosion technology, jars of Saudi sand used in hydraulic fracturing — better than US sand apparently — and new zeolites, chemical catalysts that help in the oil “cracking” process. These are all examples of the Kingdom’s cutting-edge energy technology.
But the most surreal part of the Agora experience still awaits you, in the partner house occupied by Emerson, the engineering company based in Missouri but increasingly active in Saudi Arabia. There, men in suits and hard hats take you on a simulated journey through the Permian oil production process, from extraction through pipelining to refining and power generation.
Emerson employees bounce around excitedly explaining the joy that the company’s technology and digital data systems have brought to their lives. In a boiler suit and hard hat, Mo tells how she doesn’t have to worry that pipes will get corroded any more because she can monitor them real-time from Emerson consoles; Megan enthusiastically expounds the pleasure she now gets out of managing her fleet of power stations, thanks to the same equipment.
Surely these people are all actors — nobody could be naturally that happy about the dirty work of fracking and shipping shale oil?
But Mike Train, president of Emerson Automation Solutions and certainly no thespian, explains how the company’s technology really is a game-changer in the digital transformation going on in the global energy business.
It is a big thing, too, in Saudi Arabia, where Emerson last year opened a facility in the Dhahran Techno Valley in the Eastern Province, part of the company’s growing operations in the Kingdom.
Train is looking for Saudi employees, women in particular, to beef up Emerson’s business there, and will coach newcomers in the cutting-edge processes the company pioneers. It sounds like a good offer for any young potential Saudi Agorans.
Back across the skybridge, on the escalators of Hilton Americas hotel, the memory of the Innovation Agora instantly assumed the status of fantasy. Had it all been a dream? The peanut sauce stain on my shirt was the only evidence it had been real.


Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

Updated 24 March 2019
0

Italy endorses China’s Belt and Road plan in first for a G7 nation

ROME: Italy endorsed China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan on Saturday, becoming the first major Western power to back the initiative to help revive the struggling Italian economy.
Saturday’s signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the two nations boosting their ties at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.
The rapprochement has angered Washington and alarmed some European Union allies, who fear it could see Beijing gain access to sensitive technologies and critical transport hubs.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio played down such concerns, telling reporters that although Rome remained fully committed to its Western partners, it had to put Italy first when it came to commercial ties.
“This is a very important day for us, a day when Made-in-Italy has won, Italy has won and Italian companies have won,” said Di Maio, who signed the memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Italian government in a Renaissance villa.
Taking advantage of Xi’s visit, Italian firms inked deals with Chinese counterparts worth an initial 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion). Di Maio said these contracts had a potential, future value of 20 billion euros.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy strategy and was incorporated into the ruling Communist Party constitution in 2017, reflecting Xi’s desire for his country to take a global leadership role.
The United States worries that it is designed to strengthen China’s military influence and could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.
WARM WELCOME
Italy’s populist government, anxious to lift the economy out of its third recession in a decade, dismissed calls from Washington to shun the BRI and gave Xi the sort of red-carpet welcome normally reserved for its closest allies.
Some EU leaders also cautioned Italy this week against rushing into the arms of China, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying on Friday that relations with Beijing must not be based primarily on trade.
There was not even universal backing for the BRI agreement within Italy’s ruling coalition, with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League, warning against the risk of China “colonialising” Italian markets.
Salvini did not meet Xi and declined to attend a state dinner held in honor of the visiting leader on Friday.
Di Maio, who leads the 5-Star Movement, says Italy is merely playing catch up, pointing to the fact that it exports significantly less to China than either Germany or France.
Italy registered a trade deficit with China of 17.6 billion euros last year and Di Maio said the aim was to eliminate the deficit as soon as possible.
After talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Di Maio in the morning, Xi flew to the Sicilian city Palermo for a private visit on Saturday afternoon.
He is due to head to Monte Carlo on Sunday before finishing his brief tour of Europe in France, where he is due to hold talks with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.