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
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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.


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”