Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

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)
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 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)
Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation
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Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation
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Julio de la Rosa, Acciona Middle East director for water solutions. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 January 2021

Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

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.


Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry
Updated 16 sec ago

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry
  • The shortage has pushed chip stocks to record highs, and analysts expect that chips will continue to be in short supply at least through the end of 2021

RIYADH: A global semiconductor chip shortage as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has increased the need for the Kingdom to boost its local production so it is less dependent on foreign manufacturers, a Kingdom-based IT expert said.

The shortage has pushed chip stocks to record highs, and analysts expect that chips will continue to be in short supply at least through the end of 2021.

Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at San Francisco-based Lopez Research, told MarketWatch the chip industry is facing “a perfect storm” of demand and supply issues that is unlikely to resolve soon.

“Unless we have a major economic meltdown, which is obviously possible, one of the things that’s happening right now is that almost anything you buy is going to have a chip in it,” Lopez said.

Reuters reported that chip prices could increase by up to 6 percent this year, but the delay has also seen production cut short. Carmaker Ford said it could see production cut by 20 percent as a result of the shortage of supply. Last week, US President Joe Biden announced $37 billion in funding to address the situation.

“The importance of semiconductors cannot be ignored due to their massive need in the Internet of Things, computers, smartphones, and consumer electronics devices. However, the global semiconductor scarcity and its unprecedented demand amid the pandemic have aggravated the situation for a wide array of industries. It has forced automotive, defense, industrial and other manufacturers to cut production and even shut down assembly lines,” Dr. Muhammad Khurram Khan, professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University and founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington, told Arab News.

He added: “If the current situation persists for the next few months, there are higher chances that the Kingdom may also observe a price hike for electronic items. So, it is better for local importers, businesses, and consumers to plan accordingly.”

The professor said that the current global supply shortage could be the catalyst for Saudi Arabia to invest more in this sector and develop its local capabilities.

“This would reduce dependence on imports, meet the local manufacturing demands, boost the economy, and create job opportunities in the Kingdom as per Saudi Vision 2030,” he added.


Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service
Updated 42 min 1 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service
  • Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was grounded globally in March 2019
  • National carriers do not operate the Max model

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority announced on Sunday that the Boeing 737 MAX plane would be allowed to return to service in the Kingdom.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said the decision came after completing a review, taking the necessary measures, and completing all required tests by the US Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Agency and other civil aviation authorities around the world.
Boeing’s top-selling MAX was grounded globally in March 2019 after two fatal crashes involving the same model in five months.
The authority said that national carriers do not operate the Max model, but several foreign airlines operate flights to and from Saudi airports, and several flights cross their airspace with the same model.
GACA said the temporary suspension was lifted after “close coordination with the international civil aviation community, regarding changes, licensing and training, to ensure the highest level of safety.”
The civil authority also published a navigational notice permitting the MAX model to return to service. 
(With Reuters)


KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  
Updated 28 February 2021

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  
  • Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and 5G also set for more investment, according to survey
  • 88% of Saudi-based CEOs see technological transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat

JEDDAH: Senior company executives in Saudi Arabia are embracing the digital revolution, with 98 percent planning to raise their investments in cloud computing this year, according to a new survey.
Cloud computing is at the top of the technology agendas for CEOs in the Kingdom, with investments in artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and 5G also popular, according to the global consultancy firm KPMG’s 2020 CEO Outlook survey.
While technological advances can bring security challenges, 88 percent of Saudi-based CEOs see technological transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat.
“The pace of technological adoption has quickened this year as organizations react to the new working reality. Most of the CEOs believe the pandemic has accelerated the creation of a seamless digital customer experience and [that the] creation of new digital revenue streams has advanced during the pandemic,” said Mazhar Hussain, chief disruption officer at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.
“Nonetheless, the pandemic has seen an uptick of cyberattacks, which has increased awareness and investment into cybersecurity. The number of vulnerabilities in most organizations’ operations has increased with remote work. Hence, companies must resist the urge to direct budget cuts toward preventative cyber measures and [view] the sharp increase in global cybercrime as a reason to keep advancing their cyber defenses,” he added.
At the same time, the pandemic has shaken CEO confidence in global economic growth, according to the KPMG survey. Almost 32 percent said they are less confident about global growth prospects in the next three years than they were at the beginning of the year.
While cloud computing investment is a priority, a survey in January by German business software company SAP found that while more than four-fifths (89 percent) of Saudi senior public sector executives agreed that data sharing helped them to improve on how they connected with citizens, many had not invested in training to implement this.
SAP found that while 83 percent of respondents said data sharing improved their innovation in current goods or services, only 22 percent did this with partners. And when it came to training, only 33 percent of respondents had retrained employees on how best to analyze data. This skills shortage was cited by 61 percent of respondents as being a barrier to meeting strategic change initiatives.


Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
Updated 28 February 2021

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
  • Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017
  • Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year

JEDDAH: Herfy Food Services Company, Saudi Arabia’s largest fast-food chain, has opened its fifth restaurant in Bangladesh, following the success of previous branches in the capital city.
The financial impact from the opening will reflect in the first quarter of 2021, the company said in a Tadawul statement.
Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017. 
According to an agreement signed with Bangladeshi private-sector company Greenland Services Ltd. in 2016, Herfy aims to open 30 outlets within “a few years.”
In 2020, Herfy reported an estimated annual net profit after zakat and tax of SR 53.6 million ($14.29 million), a drop of 73 percent year-on-year, as revenue for the year fell 16.6 percent to SR 1.074 billion.
Herfy was hit by the closure of its restaurants in malls and shopping centers. Moreover, working hours at stores had been reduced while administrative and general expenses had increased.
At its Bangladesh branches, Herfy offers training for employees and provides its franchisees with its own products, including meat, chicken and sauces — all made in its Saudi-based factories.
Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year. As of September 2020, the company owns a total of 40 restaurants and leases 345.


Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
Updated 28 February 2021

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
  • Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter
  • Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions

DUBAI: Getting into a prestigious Ivy League university is no easy task. 
According to the latest figures, California’s Stanford University was especially picky, with a 2019 acceptance rate of just 4 percent. Columbia and Harvard followed with 5 percent, while Princeton and Yale were slightly easier with 6 percent of applicants getting offers.
The race to get these coveted places is also getting harder as the number of applicants has gone up and universities have become even stricter. Dubai-based Crimson Education has reported a surge in clients looking for help to gain access to institutions in the US, as well as into Oxford and Cambridge.
“The number of students who joined Crimson Education in the region over the past six months was 200 percent up from the same period the previous year,” Soraya Behesti, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at Crimson Education, told Arab News. “The company had a big push to hire new strategists in order to meet the surging demand. Crimson grew 250 percent from 2019 to 2020 and is projected to grow more than 150 percent this year.” 
The demand makes sense. 
A 2015 report from the US Department of Education found that the average salary of Ivy League graduates a decade after they finished university was $70,000 a year, compared to the average salary for non-Ivy League graduates of $34,000.
Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter, and Behesti said the acceptance rate among their clients was three times the global average.
There are also a number of trends which has seen demand for such services skyrocket in recent years.
“The number of students who applied early to Ivy League colleges skyrocketed in 2020, although the acceptance rate reached record lows,” Behesti added. “Applications to Columbia and Harvard’s early rounds increased from the previous year by 49 percent and 57 percent, respectively. Applying early to their top-choice university usually gives students an advantage but last year, the early round acceptance rate was closer to that of the regular round, with Harvard admitting just 7.4 percent of early applicants, from 13.9 percent in the previous year.”
Students have started enrolling for help earlier because of the increased competition, and Behesti said Crimson had seen a rise in demand from clients as young as nine.
“When we work with students from a young age, our sessions and objectives are not focused on universities per se, but building really strong foundations, developing a growth mindset, cultivating good study habits, learning entrepreneurial thinking and even developing core skills such as coding, debate or languages.”
Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions, while Saudi students show a preference for US ones, especially Columbia, Harvard and Yale. 
Having the right aptitude is good, but money also really counts. Crimson said that studying at an Ivy League university cost between $30,000 and $45,000 per year, although between 40 and 60 percent of students received some form of financial aid.
“For GCC students, governments offer attractive scholarships — but usually only for students who gain admission to the top 100 universities. We have worked with Emirati and Saudi students of all abilities, from A-grade academics to students struggling at school, to ensure their admission to the top 100 schools through academic tutoring, admissions support and extra-curricular coaching, thereby allowing them to receive government scholarships,” Behesti said.