The Bob Pritchard Column
Donald Trump is right. Even our best airports are very ordinary compared to those overseas, our infrastructure is decaying and we have no forward vision.
A couple of years ago, I did a 10 city speaking tour to MBA graduates in Iran. It was a fabulous experience. Not at all what I was led to believe by western media. What I found in Iran was that 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country. Nearby Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) each boast over 60% female graduates in science, still more of the rest of the world. Over a third of STEM trained talent across the Muslim world is female. In the United States that number is near 30%.
We are falling behind in areas we once led. The Middle East is rapidly turning into a futuristic zone, a model hub for business and a delight for residents. They are leading in so many areas, from web speeds, to the Hyperloop to flying taxis. Advances in Healthcare technology are also dramatic
Saudi Arabia has now announced that the kingdom will build the world’s largest hi-tech solar plant project. The project, which will see $200 billion invested in the next few years, will consist of a ‘series of solar parks’ throughout Saudi Arabia. Final generation capacity will be 200 gigawatts, which would be enough to power 150 million homes. With total households of 5.4 million, Saudi Arabia expects to sell over 90% the generated electricity to neighbors. The future needs of the planned new ‘smart’ mega city NEOM, on the shores of the Red Sea may also be integral to the scale of the project.
NEOM is a $500 billion technology mega-city measuring 10,230 square miles, 33 times the size of New York City. NEOM will run on 100% renewable energy and will connect to Jordan and Egypt. Under the leadership of bin Salman, Saudi Arabia is embarking upon a series of hugely ambitious projects designed to wean the kingdom’s economy off its reliance on oil. It’s the world’s largest exporter and also holds the largest easy access reserves.
It is projected that the solar parks will save Saudi Arabia $40 billion a year in electricity generation expenses and create 100,000 new jobs. A first $5 billion phase of the project will start this year with completion in 2019 and be expected to have a generation capacity of 7.2 gigawatts of power. The kingdom is rapidly transforming from an economy wholly dependent on oil into a private sector-fuelled tech-focused modern economy. A domestic industry around solar power technology and the manufacture of photovoltaic panels is expected to spring up around the colossal project. We are still focused on coal.
Power storage technology R&D is also planned and a key component to how quickly global energy infrastructure will transition to renewable sources.
We can no longer rest on our laurels, we need a pretty dramatic change in thinking.