An interesting interval notably for all those industries already devoting billions of Dollars to building these E-cars, thus affecting not only the whole world’s manufacturing and energy generation industries alike but also the planet’s climate. But this obviously not happening overnight, is somehow phased as described in this article.
Electric cars are often seen as one of the great hopes for tackling climate change. With new models arriving in showrooms, major carmakers retooling for an electric future, and a small but growing number of consumers eager to convert from gas guzzlers, EVs appear to offer a way for us to decarbonise with little change to our way of life.
Yet there is a danger that fixating on electric cars leaves a large blind spot. Electrification would be very expensive for the lumbering lorries that haul goods across continents or is currently technically prohibitive for long-distance air travel.
Beyond all the enthusiasm surrounding electrification, currently light-duty passenger vehicles only comprise 50% of total global demand for energy in the transportation sector compared to 28% for heavy road vehicles, 10% for air, 9% for sea and 2% for rail.
Put simply, the current focus on electrifying passenger vehicles – though welcome – represents only part of the answer. For most other segments, fuels will be needed for the foreseeable future. And even for cars, electric vehicles are not a cure-all.
The unfortunate truth is that, on their own, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) cannot solve what we call the “100 EJ problem”. Demand for transport services are expected to rise dramatically in the coming decades. So the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that we need to significantly reduce the amount of energy each vehicle uses just to keep total global energy demand in the transport sector roughly flat at current levels of 100 exajoules (EJ) by 2050. More than half of that 100 EJ is still expected to come from petroleum products and, by then, the share of light-duty vehicles in transport sector energy demand is expected to decline from 50% to 34%.
The vast majority of existing passenger trips can be accommodated by existing battery electric vehicles so, for many consumers, buying one will be an easy decision (as costs come down). But for those who frequently take very long journeys, the focus also needs to be on lower-carbon fuels.
Petroleum substitutes could extend sustainable transport to heavier vehicles and those seeking longer range, while using the existing refuelling infrastructure and vehicle fleet. Whereas battery electric vehicles will impose wider system costs (for example, the charging infrastructure needed to connect millions of new electric vehicles to the grid), all the transition costs of sustainable fuel substitutes are in the fuels themselves.
Our recent study is part of a renewed focus on synthetic fuels or synfuels (fuels converted from feedstocks other than petroleum). Synfuels were first made on an industrial scale in the 1920s by turning coal into liquid hydrocarbons using the so-called Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, named after its original German inventors. But using coal as a feedstock produces far dirtier fuel than even conventional petroleum-based fuels.
One possible route to carbon-neutral synthetic fuels would be to use woody residues and wastes as feedstock to create synthetic biofuels with less impact on the environment and food production than crop-based biofuels. Another option would be to produce synfuels from CO₂ and water using low-carbon electricity. But producing such “electrofuels” would need either a power system that is very low cost and ultra-low-carbon (such as those of Iceland or Quebec) or require dedicated sources of zero-carbon electricity that have high availability throughout the year.
Synthetic biofuels and electrofuels both have the potential to deliver sustainable fuels at scale, but these efforts are still at the demonstration stage. Audi opened a €20M e-gas (electro fuel) plant in 2013 that produces 3.2 MW of synthetic methane from 6 MW of electricity. The €150M Swedish GoBiGas plant was commissioned in 2014 and produced synthetic biomethane at a scale of 20 MW using 30 MW of biomass.
Despite the many virtues of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels though, most commercial-scale projects are currently on hold. This is due to the high investment cost of pioneer process plants combined with a lack of sufficiently strong government policies to make them economically viable and share the risk of scale-up.
Government and industry attempts to encourage people to buy electric vehicles aren’t a problem in themselves. Our concern is that an exclusive focus on electrification may make solving the 100 EJ problem impossible. It is too early to tell which, if any, sustainable fuels will emerge successful and so the most pressing need is to scale up production from the current demonstration stage. If not, when our attention finally turns away from glossy electric car advertisements in a few years, we will find ourselves at a standing start in addressing the rest of the problem.
Arab Council for Housing and Construction endorsed the preparation of an Arab Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, whereas the League of Arab States (LAS) General Secretariat gives special attention to developing strategies and programs of actions to achieve sustainable development in the Arab States, with the technical support of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat). More recently this 36th Ministerial Council for Housing and Construction in UAE proceeded along and part of the above strategy as reported by Emirates News Agency.
DUBAI, October 6, 2019 (WAM) — The UAE today hosted the 36th session of the Arab Ministerial Council for Housing and Construction.
The meeting was attended by Arab ministers of housing and construction, as well as Victor Kisob, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Kamal Hassan Ali, Assistant Secretary-General Head of Economic Affairs, League of Arab States, and representatives of Arab, regional and international organisations.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the third round of the Arab Ministerial Forum on Housing and Urban Development held on 7th and 8th October.
The session began with the announcement of the UAE taking over the council’s presidency from Bahrain for its next session in 2019-2020. Its participants then discussed the main challenges facing the housing and urban development sectors in the Arab region, and other topics related to housing, most notably the Arab Housing Conference, Arab Housing Day, and the Award of the Council of Arab Ministers of Housing and Construction.
The meeting also discussed the cooperation between UN-Habitat, the forum, and relevant regional groups and foreign countries.
Bassem bin Yaqoub Al Hamar, Minister of Housing of Bahrain, thanked the UAE, represented by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme, for its hospitality and reception.
Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, welcomed the ministers and delegations participating in the session and forum, stating, “In 1975, the Arab ministers of housing and construction held their first meeting in the UAE. After 44 years, I am pleased to welcome you to your second country and wish you a pleasant stay.”
“I also hope that the meetings will yield outcomes that will help make positive changes to our housing and urban development sectors, which are the basis of overall development, happiness and quality of life,” he added.
Significance of construction in Saudi Arabia is accentuated by key transport and mobility schemes
An Asian labourer looks on as he works at the construction site of a building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image for illustrative purposes.
REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
By Seban Scaria, ZAWYA
Construction activity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been relatively sluggish and is forecast to grow at 3.3 percent in 2019.
However, after a lacklustre 2019, construction growth in the region is forecasted to steadily improve in the next four years, to reach 4.9 percent by 2022-2023, data and analytics company GlobalData said in its Global Construction Outlook report.
Government revenues in the Gulf countries have been affected due to low oil prices. Assuming oil prices stay relatively high, large-scale investment in infrastructure projects – mostly related to transport – will be a key driving force behind the growth in the region, the report said.
Saudi Arabia remains the largest regional construction market in the Middle East, despite a contraction in construction in the kingdom in recent years. Construction output is forecast to recover in 2019, growing by 2.6 percent, before posting average growth of 3.8 percent in 2020-2023, the report said.
Yasmine Ghozzi, Economist at GlobalData, said: “The construction market started on a positive note in Saudi Arabia in 2019, growing by 1.3 percent year-on-year in Q1 in real value-add terms, attributed to rising oil prices and a surge in the non-crude sector.”
“The significance of construction in Saudi Arabia is accentuated by key transport and mobility schemes such as Riyadh Metro; social infrastructure developments such as the Ministry of Housing’s Sakani programme; and energy megaprojects such as the state-owned Aramco’s Berri and Marjan oil fields,” she added.
The report pointed out that construction boom in Qatar, that began almost a decade ago, seems to have run its course as major projects are largely completed. Construction output decreased by 1.2 percent year-on-year in Q1 2019, a sharp deceleration after years of rapid expansion.
“The Qatari construction sector will slow relative to previous years, in general, but the turnaround will come from the North Field Expansion (NFE) project where Qatar Petroleum announced its aim to increase Qatar’s LNG production from current 77mtpa to 110mtpa within five years and has assigned Qatargas as the operator of the project. Meanwhile, work on the Hamad International Airport and New Doha Port will support growth in the airport and port sectors,” Ghozzi said.
However, one of the region’s brightest spots will be Egypt, where GlobalData predicts that construction will expand by an annual average of 11.3 percent between 2019 and 2023.
“Egypt’s economy is forecast to expand at a relatively rapid rate over the next two years, driven by sustained growth in natural gas production and a recovery in tourism. Delivering an ambitious renewable energy program is a priority for the government. Construction activity is also being driven by Cairo’s urban development program, which could involve building 23 new cities,” Ghozzi said.
The pace of growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly strong, averaging 6 percent a year in 2019–2023, Global data said.
According to the report, construction activity in Nigeria will accelerate steadily, supported by government efforts to revitalise the economy by focusing on developing the country’s infrastructure.
But Ethiopia will be Africa’s star performer, with its construction industry continuing to improve in line with the country’s economic expansion, but the pace of expansion will ease back to single-digits, it said.
The key factors of all energy policies across the MENA are about reducing carbon emissions and conserving hydrocarbons reserves per this article, dated September 30, 2019, of Power Technology reporting (see below) on the latest World Energy Council’s congress of Abu Dhabi, early this month.
With an estimated $100bn-worth of renewables projects under study, design and in execution across the region, the policy momentum behind energy transformation is now being converted into new, potentially lucrative business opportunities across the Middle East and Africa.
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions and conserving hydrocarbons reserves are key factors shaping energy policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
But it is the more immediate combination of lower oil prices and the fall in the cost of renewable energy technologies that have seen every country in the region announce ambitious clean energy targets.
Clean energy, which includes renewables such as solar and wind power, as well as alternative fuels including waste-to-energy and nuclear, accounts for only a small proportion of electricity generation in the MENA region today.
Change is coming
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), installed solar and wind capacity across the MENA region reached respectively 2,350MW and 434MW in 2017, up from just 91MW and 104MW in 2010.
And with an estimated $100bn-worth of renewables projects under study, design and in-execution across the region, the policy momentum behind energy transformation is now being converted into new, potentially lucrative business opportunities in the region.
The significance of the region’s energy transition was clear to see at the latest edition of the World Energy Congress, which was hosted in Abu Dhabi in September.
Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia’s pavilion was the most-buzzing hive at the congress.
In addition to its broad programme of structural economic reforms and the recent appointment of a new energy minister, the region’s biggest economy has by far the most ambitious clean energy programme planned in the Middle East.
As Riyadh’s Renewable Energy Project Development Office (Repdo) outlined plans to launch tenders for its third round of its ambitious National Renewable Energy Programme (NREP) before the end of 2019, representatives from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), were meeting technology providers on the sidelines of the event to discuss the opportunities for building large-scale solar manufacturing facilities in the kingdom.
While solar and wind power are the main focus of the region’s energy diversification plans, some of the world’s largest energy companies were keen to showcase the potential for emerging technologies including waste-to-energy.
Another glimpse into the future was provided by discussions about the potential to store energy from peak-power sources such as solar and wind.
With the race to achieve cost-effective battery-storage solutions already underway, other technologies using hydrogen are being piloted in the region to offer another method to mitigate the intermittency issues of solar and wind power.
The challenge facing the region’s utilities is to convert their ambitious clean energy ambitions into actual investment projects.
This article is sourced from Power Technology sister publication www.meed.com, a leading source of high-value business intelligence and economic analysis about the Middle East and North Africa. To access more MEED content register for the 30-day Free Guest User Programme.
This year marks a decade since Yahoo acquired Maktoob, in a deal worth $164 million. It was the first time that a technology company based in the Middle East had attracted such significant interest from a giant of its day.
At the time, the deal paled in comparison to the acquisitions and mergers typical in the region, between telecoms operators, industry and real estate. But for the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it was a seminal moment, validating the region as a place for technology and startups.
Back when this happened, there were no venture capital (VC) funds, mobile and internet penetration was low, Apple’s iPhone was still out of reach for most people and unicorns were mythical creatures with the power of flight.
Maktoob was founded in Jordan by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury as an Arabic webmail service. It grew to become the main destination for Arabic speakers on the internet and amassed 16 million users. Beyond the main portal, Maktoob offered online payments through CashU, an e-commerce platform that resembled US-based eBay called Souq and gaming company Tahadi MMO Games.
Yahoo was only interested in the main portal and so Toukan and Khoury established Jabbar Internet Group to absorb Maktoob’s other assets. In hindsight, Yahoo failed to see the consumer trends that unfolded in the region and the inevitable rise of online payments and shopping.
Souq became the biggest asset in Jabbar’s network. Emaar Malls reportedly made an offer of $800 million in 2017, but it was Amazon that would come to acquire the e-commerce site for $680 million of which $580 million was paid in cash. Emaar’s chairman Mohamed Alabbar decided to pump $1 billion into launching his own e-commerce platform, noon, as a result.
In between these two acquisitions, the technological landscape in the region had changed drastically. Internet penetration was on the rise, mobile penetration was close to or exceeded 100 per cent in every country of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Smartphones were also popular and Nokia’s dominance in the mobile phone market had been dismantled across the region, replaced by the app-friendly iPhones and Android-based Samsung and Huawei phones. With the introduction of 4G technology, the cost of mobile broadband fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data.
Empowering The Youth
Amid the protests and revolutions that disrupted the region’s economies in the so-called Arab Spring, the high youth unemployment highlighted the importance of the private sector for job creation. Entrepreneurship was presented as the silver bullet to stymie the rise of unemployment and a way to empower the youth, who make up two thirds of the region’s population.
Government policies and regulations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) slowly became friendlier to entrepreneurs and investors. Efforts to cut down startup costs continue as regional competition to become a hub for entrepreneurship has ignited. Startups have been recognised as a way to create not only employment but a means to solve for problems that societies and economies face in the Middle East.
The general shift in attitude and government policies created fertile ground for companies like Dubizzle, Talabat and Babil to emerge, most replicating models and ideas that had proved successful in other parts of the world. Germany’s Rocket Internet arrived in 2011 and began founding startups aggressively, replicating successful business models to launch companies like Namshi, which was recently acquired by Emaar Malls, wadi.com and Carmudi. Serious investors began to emerge and institutionalise and the region became home to VCs and angel investors with an eye to reap lofty returns. Today, there are several funds dedicated to entrepreneurship and a few governments have established fund of funds, to co-match VCs and help develop a local ecosystem that can generate economic growth.
One of the most prolific of these early angel investors was Aramex founder and Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour. He was one of the initial investors in Maktoob and then in Jabbar Internet Group before establishing Wamda Capital.
“The world was changing and I had felt the internet change the world, I already felt it affecting Aramex, so when Samih and Hussam came for investment, for me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.
Still On The Backfoot
But even after all these years, there has only been a handful of exits valued at more than $100 million across the Middle East. Oil still accounts for the majority of gross domestic product (GDP) in the GCC, youth unemployment is the highest in the world at 26.5 per cent according to the World Bank and costs to start a business in the current hub of the region, Dubai is among the highest in the world. For almost every country, regulations still need improvement beyond registering a business. Innovation is also lacking, the highest-ranking MENA country in the Global Innovation Index is the UAE at 36th place, behind smaller economies like Cyrpus and Malta.
Yet, there is hope.
“There are more mature companies and more mature VCs, so there are better deals happening. Exits like Careem and Fawry, those kinds of big companies that are having a real impact is one key metric of a potentially successful ecosystem,” says Abdelhameed Sharara, founder of RiseUp. “I think we are still very early compared to the US and China, but it’s a very promising space compared to the past.”
The region also has a more active female population in the startup sector, with 23 per cent of startups in Gaza and the West Bank led by women, while 19 per cent are led by women in Beirut, both ahead of New York which stands at 12 per cent. Even at RiseUp, women accounted for almost 40 per cent of the attendees last year.
“The region has really become a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and provides supportive environments for startups,” says Amina Grimen, co-founder of e-commerce beauty site, Powder. “In the beauty space, looking at the accomplishments of big female players like Huda Kattan and Dr Lamees Hamdan is truly inspiring.”
There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.
‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech
With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.
Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.
Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online.
Accusations of ‘digital imperialism’
Take, for example, the case of Facebook. While India is the country with the biggest amount of Facebook users, when you look at the location of Facebook’s 15 data centres, ten are in North America, four in Europe and one in Asia – in Singapore.
The economic argument for countries in the global south to host more data centres is that it would boost digital industrialisation by creating competitive advantages for local cloud companies, and develop links to other parts of the local IT sector.
Many countries have flirted with regulations on what sort of data should be stored locally. Some cover only certain sectors such as health data in Australia. Others, such as South Korea, require the consent of the person associated with the data for it to be transmitted overseas. France continues to pursue its own data centre infrastructure, dubbed “le cloud souverain”, despite the closure of some of the businesses initially behind the idea. The most comprehensive laws are in China and Russia, which mandate localisation across multiple sectors for many kinds of personal data.
Countries such as India and Indonesia with their massive and growing online populations arguably have the most to gain economically from such regulations as they currently receive the least data infrastructure investment from the tech giants relative to the number of users.
The economics aren’t clear cut
Supporters of data localisation cite developing countries’ structural dependency on foreign-owned digital infrastructure and an unfair share of the industry’s economic benefits. They dream of using data localisation to force tech companies into becoming permanent entities on home soil to eventually increase the amount of taxes they can impose on them.
Detractors point to the high business costs of local servers, not just for the tech giants, but also for the very digital start ups that governments say they want to encourage. They say localisation regulations interfere with global innovation, are difficult to enforce, and ignore the technical requirements of data centres: proximity to the internet’s “backbone” of fibre optic cables, a stable supply of electricity, and low temperature air or water for cooling the giant servers.
Attempts to measure the economic impact of localisation are extremely partisan. The most cited study from 2014 uses an opaque methodology and was produced by the European Centre for International Political Economy, a free trade think-tank based in Brussels, some of whose funding comes from unknown multinational businesses. Not surprisingly, it finds gross losses for countries considering localisation. Yet, a 2018 study commissioned by Facebook found that its data centre spending in the US had created tens of thousands of jobs, supported renewable energy investments and contributed US$5.8 billion to US GDP in just six years.
Like the equivalent arguments for and against free trade, taking a dogmatic position for or against the issue masks other complexities on the ground. The economic costs and benefits depend on the type of data stored, whether it’s a duplicate or the only copy, the level of government support for wider infrastructure subsidies, to name just a few factors.
India has been the most vocal supporter for localisation, promoting its own regulation as “a template for the developing world”, but it’s in a strong position to do so given the country’s relatively advanced digital industrialisation and technical manpower. Other emerging economies with large online populations, such as Indonesia, have vacillated on their localisation regulations under pressure from the US government which has threatened to pull preferential trade terms for other goods and services if they went ahead with restrictive regulations.
What governments do with the data
While the international economics of personal data may follow some of the same general dynamics as oil production, data is fundamentally different from oil because it does a double duty – providing not just monetary value to businesses, but also surveillance opportunities for governments. Some civil society activists I’ve met as part of my research in India and Indonesia told me they were sceptical of their own governments’ narratives about data colonialism, worrying instead about the increased access to sensitive personal information that localisation gives to governments.
It’s not just large corporations and states that have roles to play in this bid for “data sovereignty”. Tech developers may yet find ways to support the rights of individuals to control their own personal data with platforms such as databox, which gives each of us something akin to our own personal servers. These technologies are still in development, but projects are springing up – mostly around Europe – that not only give people greater control over their personal data, but aim to produce social value rather than profit. Such experiments may yet find a place in the developing world alongside what states and large corporations are doing.