Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC?

Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC?

Gulf Business‘s article that as an Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC? is a good snapshot of the present situation of that part of MENA countries.

We all know that ‘Big Oils’ management and petrol countries alike have underscored scientific research showing the link between burning fossil fuels and a dangerously heating planet. They’ve lobbied and funded reports to either downplay or deny the risks to the climate—and humanity—of using their products. It went on unabated until the advent of clean and accessibility to all the latest technological hard and software for a broad spectrum of commercial activities. 

Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC?

Technology has now become a key driver of economic growth in the GCC, with data already defining the region’s future, opines Maurits Tichelman, VP – Sales, Marketing, and Communications and GM – Global Markets and Partners, EMEA at Intel

Is the term ‘data is the new oil’ still relevant?
Yes, data has practically become the ‘new oil’. Data is playing a significant role as a crucial source of wealth for oil-rich nations and territories such as the GCC, which has historically been particularly dependent on oil as the main contributor to the GDP.

We are witnessing a significant shift from oil to data in the region as governments embark on strategic initiatives to diversify towards more knowledge-based and tech-driven economies. Data is already playing a key role in this transformation. A concrete example of this process could be autonomous driving. Autonomous vehicles run on data in the same way that today’s cars run on gasoline. Therefore, undoubtedly, data will be the new oil.ADVERTISING

In the GCC, oil has been crucial to economic growth. Will technology/data be able to provide the same level of economic prosperity?
Countries in the region are heavily investing in diversified industries such as technology, manufacturing, education, and healthcare, among others. As the Gulf states transform and diversify, the importance and impact of technology will take on an even greater role. Data is already defining the region’s future, complemented by mega projects planned with greater focus on smart infrastructure (smart cities), advanced telecoms services, and somewhat
accelerated by the rapid rise of remote learning and working due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, technology has now become a key driver of economic growth, from providing goods and services efficiently, to optimising advanced technologies to help businesses and governments access natural resources that can benefit people. Additionally, increased efficiency of labour has improved productivity and profitability.

While we are producing ample amounts of data in the region, are we currently maximising its benefits?
We are surrounded by data and it continues to grow exponentially. According to estimates, in 2021 alone, there will be 74 zetabytes of generated data and it is expected to reach 149 zetabytes by 2024. As a result, the need to understand and optimise data has become even more significant as every business uses data to some extent. However, there is a lack of knowledge and skills in utilising the data to its full potential. With the rise of digitalisation, companies and governments across the region and worldwide are investing in digital transformation, a positive indication that more organisations are now realising the importance of data.

The Covid crisis has highlighted the importance of technology – but will it retain its relevance post-pandemic across industries? 
The pandemic has undeniably prompted companies to invest more in technology adoption across industries including healthcare, education, retail and real estate, among others. The use of innovation technology such as virtual medical/doctor consultation has helped people during lockdowns. The Covid crisis has forced organisations and governments to adapt and prepare better to tackle future calamities with the aid of technology.

Businesses have seen the advantages and have started deploying smart and intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to improve safety standards and increase productivity. Thus, it is clear that technology has become an absolute necessity rather than a mere option; its relevance has never been so crucial and without a doubt the use and benefits will play a bigger role post-pandemic across industries locally, regionally and internationally.

What are the biggest challenges hindering tech adoption/data-driven growth in the region? 
Although organisations are implementing advanced technologies, the vast majority still operate on outdated and traditional models, which prevent them from utilising the benefits of the latest available technologies. Secondly, reluctance and resistance from employees in adopting technology poses challenges for companies. Lastly, a lack of skilled professionals is a key factor that has restricted organisations in the region from completing their digital transformation.

Looking ahead, GCC states are seeking to become global knowledge hubs. How can that journey be accelerated?
GCC governments are accelerating their digital transformation journeys with progressive strategies and initiatives. Smart Dubai, Dubai Data Strategy, Saudi Arabia’s The National Strategy for Digital Transformation and the Qatar Smart Program (TASMU) are examples of the regional commitment and ambition to explore all possibilities of technology and its impact on daily life and business. These strategies, roadmaps and ambitions are the key drivers and accelerators of their technological transformation journey.

Equipping cities with actionable insights to combat climate change

Equipping cities with actionable insights to combat climate change

There is a need to take the climate crisis more effectively to build a sustainable future. For that, local governments need to provide for equipping cities with actionable insights to combat climate change.

Environment Journal elaborates on all inherent aspect of how to go about it. In the meantime, more extensive and more significant areas in the MENA region, of which only two cities are affiliated to the referred to C40, gradually impacted by the now apparent climate alteration, still lack some comprehensive and coordinated moves to restore degraded ecosystems.

Anyway, here is a view of how to integrate the notion of environmental protection through the extensive and practical usage of the available data management infrastructure.

Equipping cities with actionable insights to combat climate change

In order to tackle the climate crisis and build a sustainable future, cities need data, writes Julia Moreno Rosino, inclusive climate action senior manager policy, data & analysis at C40, a network of the worlds megacities that are committed to addressing climate change.

As overall temperatures rise, the world is facing an increase in the frequency and intensity of forest fires, droughts, severe storms, flooding and other extreme weather events.

World leaders are trying to address these problems with regulations and initiatives concerning greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, energy transition, and adaptation to climate hazards; and municipalities around the world are taking ever bolder action in these areas.

Cities, where 56% of the global population live, are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and are working to build a healthier and more sustainable future.

In order to do this, cities need data.

As data collection systems mature and expand around the world, they are providing an invaluable way for city officials to track their progress on a number of indicators and inform new strategies to tackle the most significant climate challenges. Tracking data alone is not enough cities must be able to use that information to produce actionable insights to foster decision-making and introduce meaningful changes as part of their climate action plans.

Data-driven knowledge sharing: benchmark results and inspire success

Climate action planning needs to include monitoring and evaluation.

Policymakers can especially benefit from continuous, real-time data to develop action plans that are fine-tuned to local considerations. For this, cities are collecting data and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate city performance on emissions, air quality, energy, climate adaptation and other key elements.

At C40 Cities, a network of 97 cities taking ambitious climate action, we have built multiple dashboards, both internal and public-facing, using the data analytics software Qlik Sense to analyse these metrics and indicators.

This allows us, and cities, to analyse specific regions or sectors, in a faster and more intuitive way than having to assess multiple, complex datasets. It allows benchmarking city performance and rapid identification of which cities are on track to meet particular targets and which might need more support.

For example, our Greenhouse Gas Emissions Dashboard hosted on C40s Knowledge Hub presents complex emissions data in an easy-to-analyse format. This dashboard can be used by cities, research organisations, or members of the general public to uncover which sectors and sub-sectors are contributing to higher emissions, such as aviation or buildings. City officials can also compare current emissions to previous years to better understand their emissions trajectory.

The Clean Construction Policy Explorer is a more niche dashboard that examines the policies cities have implemented to tackle emissions from a segment of their built environment and highlights which cities have committed to achieving low carbon and clean construction. By aggregating and surfacing this information, we hope to inspire all cities to raise their ambitions on clean construction policies while learning from the policies and progress of those who have gone first.

Our Adaptation Data Explorer allows cities to find other peers around the world that are experiencing similar climate hazards or extreme weather events. Here, city officials can obtain insights on how others are addressing a particular issue and the actions they are taking, either globally or within the same region. For example, there are many cities experiencing heat waves. Leaders from Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Barcelona, and others can learn from one another and through C40 connect to discuss what they are doing to deal with these extreme heat events. Similar groupings are forming in response to rising sea levels, wildfires, and floods.

Given that transportation accounts for an important percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, it is also important to look at how mobility is evolving both in the face of infrastructure changes and the pandemic. We are using new forms of mobility data to see how public transportation dropped sharply during the first few months of the pandemic, and at the same time than cycling increased.

This has made an impact and changed the traditional mode share of transportation of many cities. What effect is this having on city emissions? Will this steep increase in cycling stay in most cities? These are all important questions that cities should be asking, and they need data to unearth the answers.

Advance to the next phase with automated insights

C40 not only aims to give our cities the data analysis and exploration options that I have explained above, but to also provide them with useful information on where to go next, so they can advance their respective climate goals in different sectors, often in highly local ways. To achieve this, we have dashboards that we share privately with our member cities, where we provide them tailored article recommendations depending on how they are performing against specific metrics.

For example, on their private page, a city can see its current rate of waste that is being diverted from landfill and incineration and compare this to peers and targets. The dashboard on the private Knowledge Hub page will also automatically recommend specific resources depending on the data for that city. If it is not on track on this indicator, it might be offered specific articles to support landfill reduction strategies. If a city is already progressing quickly, it will be recommended insights to further raise their ambition and work towards zero waste.

Every city has different needs and is in different phases of progression within multiple sectors; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the goal is to provide cities with the information that is most relevant to them depending on their data and queries, and ambitions.

Draw upon the expertise of others to achieve climate change goals

Data analytics and dashboards can help with this effort, providing a way for city officials to quickly explore their progress in various sectors, share knowledge and peruse proven insights. Such offerings will strengthen the network in which city officials and policymakers can draw upon the expertise of each other to achieve climate change goals. Although cities are taking big steps, we still need faster action to reduce the impact of climate change, and we hope that by helping cities to track results and performance, they will be better positioned to make meaningful changes.

Green buildings at the centre of healthy, sustainable living

Green buildings at the centre of healthy, sustainable living

If you speak to experts in construction, Green Building is considered an improvement in procuring buildings. It offers benefits for the environment and provides a continued opportunity to improve knowledge and skills applied in real-time.
The superiority of green building construction may surprise many because it is based on the assumption that conventional builds using traditional methods have always delivered within time, costs and required specifications. TH e element that is overlooked by all of us is that the world is overbuilt, and if we do not especially care, the planet could quickly turn into a solid concrete slab.

Climate resilience is the new sustainability and Green buildings at the centre of healthy, sustainable living are fast becoming the salvaging trend in the built environment.
In the meantime, many although still reluctant to switch to green buildings because of higher upfront costs, they do feel more significant investment returns such as reduced emissions and lesser running costs could balance out the loss of unexplored earth’s surface. Here is the Financial Express with an interesting opinion on the matter.

World Environment Day: Green buildings at the centre of healthy, sustainable living

By Ashish R. Puravankara,

While many realty players are reluctant to make the switch to green buildings to the seemingly higher upfront costs, the larger investment returns such as reduced emissions, lesser utility costs and more social value cannot be overlooked.

In the current age, technology has enabled us to maximize the potential of green buildings. It can be leveraged to conserve as well as generate energy.

While 2020-21 has inarguably been marked by social distancing and uncertainty, it has also been a period of reflection. Reflection on our vulnerabilities, our capacity to make sweeping changes in our lifestyle and an urgent need to reconnect with nature. It was evident that the way we design our homes and workspaces has a deep impact on our health and wellness, our neighbourhoods, and the planet. As a consequence, sustainability began to inform blueprints and the concept of ‘green buildings’ strengthened its position in the market. Green buildings are eco-responsible structures that are built using sustainably sourced materials, are energy-efficient throughout their lifecycle and offer improved access to green amenities.

Clean and green conserves health

Right from reduced risks of respiratory issues to having a positive impact on our mental wellness, green buildings offer a comprehensive solution to holistic well-being while promising higher quality of living. Before diving into the benefits of these structures, it is important to mention LEED. LEED is a universal certification provided to buildings that are constructed and operated with a focus on health, circular use of materials, resource efficiency and clean energy.

A 2018 study by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) found that almost 85% of employees working in LEED-certified offices reported improved productivity and overall health due to better indoor air quality and access to natural sunlight. In comparison with standard non-LEED buildings, the improved air filtration system also helps control the spread of airborne particles and germs indoors.

For many urban dwellers, accessible green spaces have been a much-needed escape from isolation and to reconnect with their natural surroundings. By integrating terrace gardens, vertical landscaping systems (especially in dense urban centres) and sprawling backyards, green buildings offer creative solutions to enhance personal outdoor spaces.

Bringing a green building to life

In the current age, technology has enabled us to maximize the potential of green buildings. It can be leveraged to conserve as well as generate energy. Some of the measures include motion-sensitive lights, natural gas microtubes, efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems and utilizing renewable sources like solar energy to light up common areas.

However, it is important to remember that technology is not the only means to give life to a green building. Many fundamental ideas behind green buildings have been an enduring component of ancient Indian architecture– interiors that are oriented towards the sun to harness the heat, ensuring large outlets for sunlight to stream in, usage of natural materials like bamboo and clay for construction. Modern-day inspirations of these practices include using eco-friendly materials for construction like recycled steel and plastic, reclaimed wood, manufactured sand.

To gain the full economic and environmental benefit of constructing a green building, every aspect of design, planning and material selection must be driven through a green mindset. The project must be led by architects, contractors, designers and engineers who are adept with green design tools and have relevant experience.

Additionally, before the project begins, it is critical to examine the building site. An environmental audit must be conducted to ensure that the project will not be built on vulnerable habitats or farmlands.

A fruitful investment

While many realty players are reluctant to make the switch to green buildings to the seemingly higher upfront costs, the larger investment returns such as reduced emissions, lesser utility costs and more social value cannot be overlooked. A USGBC article, for instance, stated LEED buildings saw 20% lower maintenance costs in comparison to standard buildings.

As per, Global Green Buildings Market- ‘The global green buildings market is projected to enjoy an impressive 14.3% CAGR through 2020 to 2027 (forecast period). One of the key drivers for this growth will be rising eco-consciousness among new-age consumers and their preference for sustainability-led brands. To remain relevant and thrive in the market, realty players will have to weave green buildings into their infra-plans.

The Road Ahead

The future of the real estate and quality living hinges on buildings that factor in sustainability, creativity, health-focused amenities and productivity. It is pertinent to approach the entire lifecycle of an asset through the lens of a circular economy. This would mean reduced use of carbon-intensive materials, recycling construction waste, and upcycling materials to their fullest potential.

Considering the evolving work-life paradigm before us, it is essential to place ‘flexibility’ at the centre of green building designs. This will help effectively address the changing needs of the workforce or residents. Furthermore, introducing incentives and funding opportunities within legislation can also propel the growth of this segment.


Climate resilience is the new sustainability

Climate resilience is the new sustainability

THE HILL in Climate resilience is the new sustainability By Randolph Kirchain, PhD, and Franz-Josef Ulm, PhD, concluding that the world must get together to build a better future. With suitable investments, though, it can be both resilient and sustainable. 

That is alright for the world, but why is the MENA region is falling behind in meeting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN has set for 2030 for the world to achieve. These already raise some concern in the region are those particularly related to nature, the environment, and climate change. Given the push to transition to renewable energy and the disaster potential posed by sea-level rise and other climate changes, sustainability in the MENA region is critical.
The region uses much more water than it replenishes, knowing that the changing climate exacerbates water stress, amongst other things. But let us see the details of what is up in the world.

The image above is for illustration and is of Dubai World Green Building Council

Climate resilience is the new sustainability
© Getty Images

As the world tackles climate change, it faces a seemingly intractable problem. Mitigating climate-disaster will require more resilient construction — and yet the building sector already comprises nearly 40 percent of global emissions.

So, how can we build the resilient infrastructure we need while also eliminating the carbon footprint of construction? At first glance, it might appear that the easiest solution is to do nothing at all.

Limiting the development of new construction, for instance, would reduce building sector emissions while slowing humanity’s encroachment on hazard-prone regions.

But, of course, such an approach is as myopic as it is impossible. Over the next 50 years, the number of city dwellers worldwide will increase from 5 billion to 7 billion. Ensuring that these new residents in some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable regions have access to sanitary, safe buildings is crucial — and will require extensive, resilient construction. Even here in the U.S., the need for new infrastructure is growing: the Biden administration has made “building back better” a huge priority.

So, what can we do to manage the impacts of this inevitable development? The simple, if obvious, answer is to build wisely. But the more important point is to understand that sustainability and resilient construction are, in fact, totally compatible.

This becomes clear when we actually define these two ubiquitous terms. As its name implies, “sustainability” means designing systems to last in the face of stresses — systems that can sustain the planet, society and the economyThe definition of resilience is fundamentally similar. Encompassing far more than “rugged” design, “resilience” means designing to resist and, most importantly, rapidly recover from a disaster.

In essence, these two concepts, resilience and sustainability, have the same goal: ensuring long-term viability in the face of challenges. When we consider them in practice, their alignment becomes even clearer. 

A resilient structure, for instance, can withstand many hazards over its life, significantly mitigating the costs associated with hazard repair. At the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, we have found that investments in resilient construction pay for themselves in just a couple of years in hazard-prone regions.

These investments can be as straightforward as storm shutters and stronger roof-to-wall connections or as stringent as elevated structures, concrete walls, and fireproof materials. Given the massive losses hazards will likely inflict in the coming century, resilient construction makes clear financial sense.

But it also makes environmental sense. In the aftermath of a disaster, poorly built infrastructure leads to immense amounts of, often toxic, waste — as well as a large demand for resources and reconstruction that will only increase the environmental impacts of the building sector. In that sense, to build resiliently is also to build sustainably, limiting unnecessary construction and waste.

Resilient construction can also be inherently sustainable. New construction is more energy-efficient, and that’s especially the case with resilient materials. We’ve found that resilient construction can have around 5 to 10 percent lower lifetime impacts due to energy efficiency — despite having up to a 30 percent greater initial impact from materials and construction.

The same is true for infrastructure. Durable, paving materials can reduce vehicle emissions and mitigate hazards like the urban heat island effect when implemented in the right context. Moreover, designing road networks to endure future risks like price and budget changes — not to mention hazards — allows agencies to reduce their emissions, lower costs and improve performance over the long term.

All of this is to say that the construction of a resilient built environment does not conflict with sustainability. In fact, it’s clear these two goals are more than harmonious — they are synergistic.

Even still, that doesn’t preclude the need to completely eliminate building sector emissions: We will still need to use the lowest emitting materials. To ensure that this happens, governments, industries and academia must collaborate. The potential solutions are myriad.

We can start by reimagining how governments procure sustainable materials. Currently, many states compare the environmental impacts of construction products with tools that were never intended to facilitate comparisons. By creating a better standard, it will be easier for governments to select the greenest materials — and for manufacturers to compete to lower their impacts.

However, we’ll need more than just competitive, transparent markets. The development of innovative materials will also require a comprehensive array of investments, particularly around carbon capture, which is currently prohibitively expensive. In the case of concrete — which is a ubiquitous, affordable and resilient construction material — carbon capture will be essential to eliminating emissions.

Thankfully, the Biden administration’s latest proposal acknowledges these needs.

In addition to investing tens of billions of dollars towards resilient construction, the plan aims to improve the nation’s infrastructure by “fixing it right.” 

Our research has already found that this kind of long-term, strategic approach inherently tends to produce resilient and sustainable outcomes by managing risk and minimizing construction actions. But above all, the plan prioritizes the procurement and innovation of low-impact construction materials, including concrete, which the nation will need to build resiliently.

As the world experiences unprecedented growth, balancing resilient construction and environmental sustainability can seem daunting. But upon closer examination, this trepidation is misplaced: Solutions to climate change can be cumulative, not zero-sum — and that’s especially the case with resilience and sustainability.

Ultimately, we can’t take the easy route and abdicate responsibility: A better future must be built. With the right investments, though, it can be both resilient and sustainable.

Randolph Kirchain, PhD, is the co-director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. His research focuses on the environmental and economic implications of materials selection and deals with the development of methods to model the cost of manufacture and the sustainability of current and emerging materials systems.

Franz-Josef Ulm, PhD, is the faculty director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. His research interests are in the mechanics and structures of materials. His research investigates the nano- and micromechanics of porous materials, such as concrete, rocks and bones and the durability mechanics of engineering materials and structures.

Research from the MIT CSHub is sponsored by the Portland Cement Association and the RMC Research and Education Foundation.

Oman plans to build world’s largest green hydrogen plant

Oman plans to build world’s largest green hydrogen plant

Laura Paddison in The Guardian. Oman plans to build the world’s largest green hydrogen plant that Renewable power is slowly replacing fossil fuel usage at all levels as a world trend shows the way. This article reporting such a piece of news that is as unnecessary as unproductive because solar, wind power is the future, and fossil fuels usage would be binned forever within the near future for good. 

The picture above is for illustration and is of WindPower Monthly.

Oman plans to build world’s largest green hydrogen plant

Oil-producing nation aims plant powered by wind and solar energy to be at full capacity by 2038

A solar plant in Chile, Latin America. The Oman plant construction is scheduled to start in 2028 in al-Wusta governorate on the Arabian Sea. Photograph: Reuters

Oman is planning to build one of the largest green hydrogen plants in the world in a move to make the oil-producing nation a leader in renewable energy technology.

Construction is scheduled to start in 2028 in Al Wusta governorate on the Arabian Sea. It will be built in stages, with the aim to be at full capacity by 2038, powered by 25 gigawatts of wind and solar energy.

The consortium of companies behind the $30bn (£21bn) project includes the state-owned oil and gas company OQ, the Hong Kong-based renewable hydrogen developer InterContinental Energy and the Kuwait-based energy investor Enertech.

Once online, the plant will use renewable energy to split water in an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen, which is able to replace fossil fuels without producing carbon emissions. Most will be exported to Europe and Asia, said Alicia Eastman, the co-founder and president of InterContinental Energy, either as hydrogen or converted into green ammonia, which is easier to ship and store. The facility aims to produce 1.8m tonnes of green hydrogen and up to 10m tonnes of green ammonia a year.

Oman currently relies heavily on fossil fuels, generating up to 85% of its GDP from oil and gas, but its fossil fuel reserves are dwindling and becoming increasingly costly to extract. In December 2020, the country published its Oman Vision 2040 strategy, a plan to diversify the economy away from fossil fuels and increase investment in renewables.Advertisement

Green hydrogen could play an important role, said Eastman, thanks to the Oman’s combination of plentiful daytime sun and strong winds at night. “Oman is one of the places in the world that I’ve called the ‘future renewable superpowers’,” said Michael Liebreich, the founder of BloombergNEF, “because what you really want [to produce green hydrogen] is very cheap solar and very cheap wind.”

While electrification is the most efficient way of decarbonising most sectors, it’s limited when it comes to energy-intensive industries such as steel, chemicals, aviation and shipping. Green hydrogen will be vital to help fill these gaps, said the International Energy Agency in its report published this week, which called for an end to fossil fuel investments if governments are serious about climate commitments.

A wave of net zero-emissions pledges has already led to a slew of hydrogen strategies, including from the European Commission in 2020, which predicted the share of hydrogen in the EU’s energy mix would rise from 2% to 14% by 2050.

Yet green hydrogen currently makes up less than 1% of global hydrogen production. The majority is still produced using fossil fuels such as gas and coal, in a process that emits about 830m tonnes of carbon annually, equivalent to the emissions of the UK and Indonesia combined. “Blue hydrogen” is a cleaner version, as emissions are captured and stored, but it is still produced using gas – and is seen by some oil companies as a way to keep using fossil fuels.

One of the stumbling blocks for green hydrogen has been cost, partly because of the huge amounts of energy required. But as renewables and electrolysers become cheaper, and fossil fuel prices rise, costs could fall by up to 64% by 2030, according to research from the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“Most green hydrogen products will not be competitive for at least another decade,” said Falko Ueckerdt, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who sees the Oman project as “a sign that investors anticipate large future demands for hydrogen-based fuels after 2030”.

Oman’s proposed plant is just one in a slate of green hydrogen mega projects planned globally. Eastman said InterContinental Energy has a number of other plants in the works, including a 26GW wind and solar green hydrogen plant in the Pilbara, Western Australia. If constructed, this $36bn (£25.5bn) plant would be the world’s biggest energy project. The first phase is expected to be online by 2028.

In March, the renewables company Enegix Energy announced the construction of a green hydrogen plan in Ceará state, north-eastern Brazil. Once built, which the company estimates will take about four years, the plant would produce more than 600,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year from 3.4GW of wind and solar power.

“People are upping the gigawatts, and they should,” said Eastman, “there’s so much room in the market.”