Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is amping up the pace of its economic diversification strategy—triggering a spate of eco-friendly initiatives, including projects to produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within the next decade.
The low cost of local fossil fuels coupled with the comparably high cost of renewables has made sustainable projects a hard sell. Last year, less than 2 percent of Saudi households used renewables— mainly solar energy—to meet their electricity needs.
But appetite for renewable energy projects has shifted since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled Vision 2030 in 2016, the framework to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and advance public sectors such as health, education, infrastructure and tourism. The nation’s capital has seen the largest uptick in project activity and momentum on projects finally in the execution phase could provide valuable lessons for future initiatives to help the country reach its sustainability goals.
One of the largest urban sustainability initiatives in the world, the US$23 billion project Green Riyadh Project is expected to add 7.5 million trees across the city, as well as revitalize major thoroughfares and develop a recycled water irrigation network. The megaproject, which moved into execution phase in June, is expected to increase the amount of natural green space in the city to 9 percent, from just 1.5 percent. Among the larger benefits to be realized, project sponsors say: improved air quality and cooler temperatures across the city.
The US$27 billion Riyadh Metro project aims to get more cars off the road, by enticing residents with easy, reliable public transportation options.
At the center of the mobility rethink: An electric rail line integrated with an 85-kilometer (53-mile), three-line bus rapid transit network, totaling six lines. Once completed, it’s expected to be the world’s largest public transportation project— reducing the number of daily car trips by nearly 250,000 while moving 3.6 million daily passengers around Riyadh.
To drive home the spur to sustainability, metro stations will be outfitted with solar cell technology, which will save about 20 percent of the power needed for air conditioning and lighting.
Winds of Change
Billed as the largest wind farm in the Middle East—and Saudi Arabia’s first—Dumat Al Jandal will supply electricity for as many as 70,000 homes in Saudi Arabia, once complete in 2022. The US$500 million megaproject—under development by a consortium that includes French energy giant EDF Renewables and UAE powerhouse Masdar—reached a critical milestone in July: The first of nearly 100 wind turbines arrived in the country and began its journey to the project site, located 900 kilometers (559 miles) north of Riyadh.