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‘NEOM is an accelerator of human progress’

How is NEOM utilizing renewable energy to meet its clean energy commitments? How will it contribute to advancing the circular economy in the renewable industry?

NEOM is an accelerator of human progress that will drive the concept of livability beyond current standards for living in large urban complexes. Moreover, our energy system at NEOM must be sustainable and in harmony with nature.

NEOM is also redefining the business approach to the environment. Our energy system is capable of offering clean energy at competitive prices in order to attract the businesses and industries of tomorrow.

NEOM’s energy system comprises of three major pillars of water – water, electricity and hydrogen – to optimize the circularity of energy on a grander scale. Through NEOM Energy and Water, we will be able to drive circularity of energy to levels never reached before.

While electricity will be generated purely through renewables energies, it will be transported in a compact grid and will be combined with natural water. With a low level of waste and discharge that will be unrivalled, it will convert into green hydrogen, which will be used to energize industries.

Circularity plays a role within each of these areas (water, electricity and hydrogen) and their respective product life cycles. Spillages in the water cycle, electricity losses during transmission or storage, and raw material recycling or second-life use cases – if we do not capture as much value as possible in our product life cycles, we will encounter problems when it comes to offering energy at competitive prices. The current raw material crisis shows that the global scale of the energy transition requires a careful management of the resources needed for it.

NEOM is a ground-up infrastructure; please tell us about the most pressing challenges in building renewable energy systems in such an infrastructure.

We see NEOM's greenfield site, with no legacy infrastructure, as an opportunity to advance innovative and breakthrough solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.

However, building an energy system from the ground up raises questions about a number of  areas. For example, there is clearly a need to identify roles for building, owning, operating and disposing of generation assets. We also need to ensure adequate capacity build-up and implement processes to dispatch generation assets in a zero-marginal cost environment. Additionally, the sector needs to balance a system based on 100% renewable and intermittent generation. However, this should be done without having a large fleet of conventional power plants on standby, to reach never-before levels of real-time system balancing.

This can be done through the digital integration of residential and industrial consumers, which will provide enormous potential for energy production, demand-response and storage at a local level.

In terms of a regulatory framework, we need to put a structure in place that covers data management and usage.

We need to ensure that delivery infrastructures are being ramped up early enough to accommodate our first anchor tenants and the first-generation assets.

Therefore, as innovation is an important aspect, the strict delivery schedule should not impact the scale of NEOM and its implementation strategy.

How are you using emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in your projects? What will be different in NEOM as a result?

Technology and innovation are at the core of everything we do at NEOM. End-to-end digitalization and related innovations represent the biggest pivot toward a cost efficient yet 100% RES-driven (Renewable Energy Source) system.

In our quest to establish such an energy system, the main challenge is to balance supply and demand with supply being strictly on an intermittent basis. Additionally, AI, smart grids and machine learning are important tools to achieve a 100% RES-based system.

Where current smart cities utilize less than 1% of available data, NEOM's cognitive communities will use over 90% of available data proactively to improve the lives of residents and businesses, far beyond the capabilities of today's smart cities.

For NEOM’s energy sector, we can build upon a basic infrastructure to allow the proper communication between demand and supply centers in NEOM, driving forecasting, system simulation and real-time automated intervention in the system to levels not reached before.

Harnessing advanced technologies and systems also means maximizing energy mix efficiencies, ensuring sustainable management of resources, and enabling access to NEOM's energy sustainability framework and customer-centric platform.

Can you give us an idea about the latest collaborative projects in energy systems for NEOM?

Potential partners and investors will have the opportunity to collaborate with NEOM to help create a circular economy at a scale powered by 100% renewable energy and with abundant water for NEOM's residential and commercial needs. We certainly cannot do this alone and welcome partnerships with the leading experts and organizations from around the world.

One of the first outcomes of our collaborative approach is our joint venture (JV) with Air Products and ACWA Power. This JV will invest approximately US$5 billion to produce green ammonia from wind and solar power in NEOM in the world’s largest green hydrogen plant.

With several industries in search of the transformation to green production methods and sustainable production cycles, NEOM is actively pursuing discussions with interested industrial partners to leverage its propositions for a sustainable future of industrial production.

Quite simply, NEOM is open for business. With the need to innovate for scale and pace, we see a particular desire to understand and evaluate innovations for the energy system that are coming from outside the traditional energy players.

We believe it is cooperation with startups and venture capital organizations that can offer a particular edge to the challenges we have ahead of us that will be a key element of our future success. Of equal importance will be collaboration and cooperation with the established energy companies that share our vision for innovation and new solutions to age-old problems. This cooperation has already begun. 

By when can we expect to see NEOM as a fully ready urban region?

NEOM is an extraordinarily complex and bold project. It is being developed as a model of how humanity can adapt and thrive facing the challenges of urban development, climate change and environmental degradation. We’ve taken great strides already and made exciting progress. For example, NEOM is redefining industrial cities and manufacturing centers by creating OXAGON – a city where modern manufacturing and industrial advancement can be pursued sustainably while providing exceptional urban livability.

The unique design of OXAGON, which will be the world's largest floating complex, will allow us to develop the blue economy, which is centered around the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth.

Clearly, with a project of the size and complexity of NEOM, there will be changes and new developments; however, overall, we are on schedule. We have the right people to guide us on this journey, across sectors at NEOM, and it is thanks to their innovative outlook and spirit that we can be confident that we will get where we need to be.

The journey has already started. Construction has begun and will be completed in multiple phases, with the first residential community and associated energy infrastructures expected to be finished in 2024. The bulk of the construction in NEOM will be completed within the next seven to ten years.