Italian ambassador to Riyadh hails Saudi ‘social revolution’

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Italian Ambassador Luca Ferrari. (Photo: Abdulrahman Al-Salem)
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Italian Ambassador Luca Ferrari speaks during an interview with Arab News. (Photo: Abdulrahman Al-Salem)
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Updated 02 January 2020

Italian ambassador to Riyadh hails Saudi ‘social revolution’

  • Saudis should be proud of their country and proud of their changes, says Luca Ferrari

RIYADH: The outgoing Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia has described the last four years in the Kingdom as remarkable, calling them a “social revolution.”

Luca Ferrari was reflecting on his time in the country, from the changes he witnessed firsthand to the political relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia. 

“These are the four years of the most remarkable event in Saudi Arabia, which is a social revolution,” he told Arab News. “There’s also an economic one and a political one, but I think the strongest element is the social evolution.”

He said the younger generation was taking control and imposing their own way of life on the Kingdom, saying this development exceeded expectations. 

“I see the younger generations in Europe who are always crying for the state to do something. Here I see the younger generations in Saudi Arabia taking things in their own hands and just building up and moving on.”

Last year’s Formula E event in Diriyah was a moment when the Kingdom changed dramatically, he added, while his favorite cultural event in Saudi Arabia was the performance of Italian opera star Andrea Bocellia at the Winter at Tantora Festival in AlUla. 

“That was quite remarkable, because the setting of this dramatic theater in the middle of the desert created by Italian architects in AlUla,” he said, speaking of the theater which is set between volcanic mountains and Nabataean ruins. “It was stunning.”

I see the younger generations in Saudi Arabia taking things in their own hands and just building up and moving on.

Luca Ferrari, Italian ambassador

His second cultural highlight was Milan’s La Scala making its debut in Riyadh in June, when the symphony orchestra from the world-famous opera house treated 3,000 people to an hour of beautiful classical music. 

The show opened with a surprise performance of the Kingdom’s national anthem by Saudi opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation for her rendition.

The orchestra was conducted by maestro Pietro Mianetti, and featured performances by soprano Francisca Manzo and tenor Ricardo Della Sciucca.

“It was packed,” said Ferrari. “They played some of the best pieces of Italian concertos and opera. It was very well done. It wasn’t an embassy event. It was something by the Saudis for the Saudis.”


Italian visitor numbers to Saudi Arabia are increasing thanks to the introduction of a new tourist visa, with holidaymakers going out and about in Riyadh and elsewhere.

Italian visitor numbers to Saudi Arabia were increasing thanks to the introduction of a new tourist visa, with holidaymakers going out and about in Riyadh and elsewhere. There was also an increase of Saudis heading to Italy and the ambassador said he was happy about those numbers too. 

“You know, it takes very little time to get a bad image, but then it takes a long time to make a bad image better. And Saudi Arabia had a bad image because it was a very closed country. Nobody knew anything about it. And so, you allowed those who were against you to speak, to badmouth this country without reacting. Now that you’re opening up, just by the fact that you’re opening up, I mean, this is beyond the response. Maybe some problems were true, but most of them were not.”

People will discover Saudi Arabia for themselves and spread the word, he added, although it could take as much as a generation. “Saudi Arabia’s image will change. Saudi Arabia will change, and I think only to something better.”

Another transformation was many Saudis staying put instead of traveling overseas for their holidays. “Everybody was here, because there was so much to see and to do in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, everywhere. There is a lot to do in the country. I could testify that 80 percent of my Saudi friends are all here and I see them every day. Last year or the year before they were all away.”

The ambassador said he had visited different parts of Saudi Arabia and had a lot of fun. 

“I think they (Saudis) should be proud of their country. They should be proud of their changes. They should never sell themselves short. You can be open-minded and still maintain your traditions and one thing does not impede the other. And that’s very, very important. Yes, it has a future ahead. You’re a very young country and young people are thriving, and they have a long future in front of them.”

His next posting is in China.

Saudi Arabia joins club of Middle East’s ‘green energy’ leaders

Updated 42 min 36 sec ago

Saudi Arabia joins club of Middle East’s ‘green energy’ leaders

  • Government plans to invest up to $50bn in renewable energy projects by 2023
  • Demand for electricity in the Kingdom is forecast to rise by up to 120 GW by 2030

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia has become one of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s leaders in the race to use renewable energy, according to a new study.

The Solar Outlook Report 2020 was launched at the Solar Forum of the World Future Energy Summit, a highlight of this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 11-18).
The report, prepared by Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), the largest regional body of its kind, said Saudi Arabia and Oman have joined the UAE, Morocco and Egypt as leaders in the renewables race.
“Saudi Arabia is now in the third year of implementation of its massive target of 60 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy generation by 2030,” it said.
Martine Mamlouk, secretary-general of MESIA, said that investment in solar energy is evident across MENA countries. “Saudi Arabia has a target of almost 60 gigawatts of renewable energy, out of which 40 gigawatts are solar,” she told Arab News.
“This is in line with the Kingdom’s objective of diversification and Vision 2030. While the industry is reaching grid parity, it is great to see the deployment of new innovative technologies to increase efficiency of systems, production management and grids.”
Upcoming solar projects in the Kingdom include Madinah, Rafh, Qurayyat, Al-Faisaliah, Rabigh as well as Jeddah, Mahd Al-Dahab, Al-Rass, SAAD and Wadi Ad-Dawasir, along with Layla and PIF.
Saudi Arabia’s energy demand has been rising steadily, with consumption increasing by 60 percent in the past 10 years, according to data provided by market researchers Frost & Sullivan. Demand for electricity in 2019 reached 62.7 GW and is forecast to rise by up to 120 GW by 2030.
The value of solar-power projects in the MENA region is estimated at between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. By 2024, that figure is expected to approach $15 billion to $20 billion.
Under its Vision 2030 program, the Kingdom aims to reduce its dependency on oil revenues, diversify its energy mix and tap its renewable energy potential.

Saudi Acwa power-generating windmills that have been erected in Jbel Sendouq, on the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco. (Reuters)

After the Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) was set up within the Ministry of Energy, the goals for the Kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) were revised upwards in 2018, resulting in a five-year target of 27.3 GW and a 12-year target of 58.7 GW.
The Saudi government plans to invest up to $50 billion in renewable energy projects by 2023.
“At MESIA, we are excited to see solar developments in the MENA region accelerating and reaching attractive tariffs, while lowering the carbon footprint of regional economies,” Mamlouk said.
“The total investment in renewables in MENA between 2019 and 2023 is expected to be $71.4 billion, representing a 34 percent share of the total investment in the power sector, which is valued at $210 billion.”
Changes introduced by Saudi Arabia include a focus on local developers and easing of regulations for local manufacturers of solar panels.
A Local Content and Government Procurement Authority has been established to oversee and audit local content compliance.
Separately, a Renewable Energy Financing package has been launched by the Saudi Industrial Development Fund to support the growth of utility and distributed-generation sectors.
After solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof of a mosque in Riyadh, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center recommended a similar move at other mosques.
Meanwhile, plans for the use of solar panels in the Saudi agro-industry have led to burgeoning interest in the technology, with several industrial facilities expected to have their own units in the not-too-distant future.
For good measure, a regulatory framework to allow exchanges with the power grid is being studied by the Electricity Co-generation Regulatory Authority.
Flexible storage solutions, such as hydrogen, will give intermittent renewable energy a greater share in the energy system, Mamlouk said.

“It may enable present-day oil and gas exporters to become key renewable energy exporters tomorrow. The solar industry is thrilled and proud to participate in this profound transformation of Saudi Arabia’s energy system.”
In the past year solar tariffs have fallen to record low levels in the MENA region, mainly due to tremendous cost declines that have brought the goal of grid parity within reach.
With installed solar electricity capacity worldwide standing at 617.9 GW, MENA governments are staying focused on energy diversification with the help of large-scale projects.
In the UAE, Dubai is targeting the completion of a 5 GW facility by 2030 at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Solar Park. Abu Dhabi has “engaged” its second-largest solar project and is considering the roll-out of more units by 2025.


62.7GW - Demand for electricity in Saudi Arabia in 2019

Morocco aims to reach 52 percent contribution by renewables in its energy mix by 2030. The figures for Tunisia and Egypt are 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, by 2022.
Oman expects solar-power plants totaling 1.5 GW to come on stream by the end of 2022. Even Iraq, with all its political troubles and administrative paralysis, has not ignored solar power in drawing up plans for its future energy mix.
“Investments in renewable energy have reached billions in all Arab countries,” Mohammed Al-Taani, secretary-general of the Arab Renewable Energy Commission, said.
“Jordan is spending more on renewable energy, and we encourage people to have more independence with renewables by generating their own electricity to reduce their bills.”

Nevertheless, challenges remain when it comes to implementing projects in rural and isolated areas, according to Mustapha Taoumi, a technology expert at the EU-GCC Clean Energy Technology Network.

“With regard to issues of power grid and access to the people, we have to prepare for everything and be ready to receive new technology because there are communities with little income and education,” he said.
“Then there is the challenge of implementation on the part of different actors and sectors. Social acceptance is also important as we come with new technologies and (information on) how to use them.
“We have to be innovative when it comes to financing the facilitation process. We have to be fair and democratic,” he said.
Although this is an exciting time for the region, governments will have to step up their efforts since they are still subsidizing the cost of power, Taoumi said.
“Technologies are evolving quickly, so decision-making must keep pace,” he said. “We could end up having smart meters in rural and isolated areas in two to three years.”