The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is attempting to accomplish something unique. NEOM, a new concept of high-tech development area will rise from the desert sands and bring to life a new self-sustainable carbon neutral society. NEOM will include a smart city built horizontally, supported by high-tech industrial and logistics areas making it a future destination for sustainable living.
The NEOM project is located in Tabuk, in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, extended along with Aqaba Gulf and 468 km of coastline with beaches, as well as mountains up to 2,500 m high, with a total area of around 26,500 km2 – about the size of Belgium!
Saudi Arabia has long played a central role in the international energy market. Part of this new project is above all the kingdom’s willingness to help drive global economic growth and social development. The key to NEOM uniqueness is that it’s being developed as an inclusive project, receptive to greater concepts with sustainability as a key pillar.
By creatively and responsibly addressing the energy and climate challenges of today as well as the social-economic impacts of the future, from policy development and investments to planning and infrastructure, Saudi Arabia is inspiring other world countries to pitch in and create a sustainable tomorrow.
HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known internationally as MBS, has commented that this development was needed to support Saudi Arabia’s ambitious population-growth goals and its ability to compete globally. “By 2050, commute durations will double. By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising carbon dioxide emissions and sea levels” he says. They are also looking for solutions for rapidly expanding global population.
Saudi Arabia strides to become a première center of innovation and entrepreneurship, free of corruption and with a free-thinking social environment.
The NEOM concept comes from the Greek prefix meaning “new” (NEO) joined to the abbreviation of the Arabic word “Mustaqbal” meaning “future” (M).
Simply put, NEOM is the name given to a desert region in Saudi Arabia, which is being designed starting from scratch and aiming to become the most modern megacity of the future. It is a unique project that has never been done before, developing an economic hub together with technology, sustainability and where environment will play a key role.
“NEOM is expected to have capacity for 450,000 people by 2026 and 1.5-2 million people by 2030, eventually housing nine million by 2045”, the crown prince said. By that time, the prince expects the city to have a bigger impact in world’s global economy than Abu Dhabi.
NEOM’s initial phase is set to cost around $319 billion, half of which will be funded by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, and the rest will be partly financed through a flotation expected in 2024, as well as through private sector investment.
On July 16, during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit, in Saudi Arabia, MBS commented about NEOM: “Since we are doing it from nothing, why should we copy normal cities?”. This will represent a new way of urban living, “I believe it’s going to be the best liveable area – by far – in the whole planet”, he added.
The idea is impressive, it’s a dream of an advanced, powerful smart area emerging on what is today one of the most hostile territories and climates on Earth.
And… by 2060 Saudi Arabia has committed to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions.
Economic: The $500 billion budget project will include The Line, moreover it also includes ports and enterprise areas, research centres, sports centres, entertainment venues and tourist centres. There is a plan to establish a network of airports that will include an international one. The NEOM Bay Airport in the northern region of Sharma opened two years ago and already operates regular flights for investors and employees on the NEOM project. The whole project is expected to contribute $48bn to the Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product.
Sustainability: A new model for urban sustainability powered by 100% renewable energy – from solar, wind and hydrogen-based power generation – ensuring a zero-emission, carbon-positive ecosystem. NEOM will be a regional powerhouse in water production and storage, anchored on water desalination. High-tech interoperable, modular systems will attract water-related research companies and start-ups to drive innovation and lead in all sectors of the water industry. It will adopt environmental responsibility principles, that promote sustainable and regenerative development practices.
Humanity-Centred: On a pedestrian-first approach, NEOM will be built around people, and designed for convenience and walkability. There will be hanging pathways and gardens. Urban living by establishing shot commute and convenient walkable pathways, different spine infrastructures will house essential utilities and high-speed transportation will be part of citizens’ daily life.
Proposing a new model of living, working and prospering, NEOM is publicly tackling a variety of sectors, which are all described as paramount for the future organisation of NEOM and all the single projects within the entire region.
In the framework of a completely renewed conception of the way of living, which is oriented to make each aspect of life truthfully built around the notion of sustainability, NEOM is revealed as a grandiose pilot programme aiming to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy and testing cutting-edge technologies that are expected to have an impact on daily life.
In fact, NEOM is imagined as a unique hub for innovation, gathering national and international key researchers and industries with the ambition to work together to accelerate human development.
Such scenario lead
s to the proposal of innovative solutions in integrating business and industry into communities to build supply chains that shape innovative and efficient operations in all sectors.
Some examples are quite remarkable for their scope:
The size of NEOM requires a variety of different competencies and profiles of experts having a solid background and endless willingness to learn. Such combination of talents can truthfully become the driver for the success of the project.
Since the beginning, in order to satisfy NEOM’s ambition, which wishes “to make happen what normally is impossible”, Saudi Arabia has gathered “adventurous spirits” and continue to look for top performers in different fields.
About 2,500 people are currently working at NEOM and thousands more are expected to join the project when the next phases will be initiated. Temporary housing and facilities ensured by ad hoc migrant laborers taking care of food, cleaning, and laundry have been established, while remote work has been discouraged during the pandemic. A school has been opened and some employees have moved their families in – a total new society has already been created.
Some of the current sector leads described their daily routine at NEOM. Vishal Wanchoo, Head of Manufacturing & OXAGON CEO says: “Life here is buzzing. […] There is a tangible feeling of the scale of opportunity we face and the urgency to make things happen. We live, eat and breathe NEOM and when you are building a high-performing team, it’s key to have everyone here at our new headquarters”. Also, according to Dr. Juan Carlos Motamayor, Head of Food, “You share your days with very talented people from all over the world – coming from different cultures, having diverse personal and professional backgrounds, and stories to tell. This makes it a quite interesting place to be, full of new experiences and opportunities to learn and keep growing”.
Recently, international media reported that many of NEOM’s new hires last less than a year. Over the years, high levels of turnover in NEOM’ team have teams affected not just the middle management, but especially the CEOs and sectors’ leads. Even if it is clear that great projects need to be accompanied by powerful energies and flexible mind-set, capable to resist and be proactive in challenging situations more than anywhere else, NEOM may have some room for improvement in the general organisation of the multiple aspects of the plan, requiring even more talents to ensure a sustainable project management.
Announced in January 2021, the city called THE LINE is the most far-reaching main initiative within NEOM, which has the ambition, according to MBS, to put in place a “civilizational revolution”. It is presented as a linear city, 170 Km long and only 200 meters wide for a footprint of just 34 square meters covered by a shiny façade looking at the nature.
The urban planning for THE LINE is designed to let people live efficiently and reach every essential service within a five-minute walk (or swim, through capillary water channels), because no roads or cars are going to be allowed. Utility corridors and high-speed trains are to be hidden underground, along with infrastructure for moving freight.
THE LINE will run on 100% renewable energy and 95% of the land will be preserved for nature. Such organisation of the city, an innovative and unprecedented model for a city, will be a means to make Saudi Arabia a pioneer in the field of sustainability.
Bob, you are a profound connoisseur of project engineering and of the Arab world.
From your point of view, how do you evaluate the NEOM’s project and its vision?
What Saudi Arabia is attempting to develop is a sustainable revolution, as never seen before, based on a self-sustainability and total carbon neutral ideology. Saudi Arabia has chosen to “lead by example” in its quest to develop the new NEOM reality. In my opinion, there are three compelling elements of the Saudi strategy, and these are huge differentiators with other comparative societies. The first is Prestige, Saudi Arabia ambition is to be the first to set a global example and create a worldwide event that everyone will hear about and admire. Secondly, it is fair to say that they are poised to live by the principle of “walk the walk and talk the talk”. Whereas other leading nations have made huge statements and undertakings to fight global warming, NEOM is the first to set the example of what needs to be done if we are serious about achieving the goals of sustainability and innovation. Having recruited the best engineers, architects, technologists, all this meshed together the necessary amount of money to make NEOM a reality. Last, NEOM is committed to giving something back. In fact, every true leader wants to leave its fingerprint on his country, people and culture and MBS leave a mark, a real legacy by attempting to achieve something that has never been accomplished in human history.
How is THE LINE completely reshaping the way we conceive cities, and more generally urban planning?
THE LINE is the main initiative that bring together all the ideas that make up NEOM, such as the generation of clean water and renewable energy or the self-sustainability in producing food, without hauling around millions of freight containers importing food and basic essential needed by the Saudi population, thus requiring lots of money, energy, and a hefty logistics distribution network. THE LINE is a new urbanist concept. To understand its level of innovation, let’s take the example of Manhattan, which is just a part of New York, as THE LINE is a part of NEOM. Manhattan was developed to grow vertically, in the sense that it was built from the ground up. THE LINE is completely the opposite, because this city is going to be built in a horizontal direction. This to better meeting all the geo-social necessities of the future
What is the most important and urgent infrastructure for a totally new city supposed to flourish in the desert as it is the case for THE LINE?
From the beginning of time, all societies known to mankind have to deal with satisfying their first basic need which was settling in a prime location with unlimited access to fresh running water, mainly rivers. Compared to traditional cities, the commodity of unlimited running waters is absent in THE LINE. The only feasible access to water in NEOM’s region is at the Red Sea, near the port of Aqaba in Jordan. A major challenge is to get freshwater drinkable to deliver to everyone that will be populating THE LINE. The creation of a efficient desalination process becomes fundamental whereas salt water can be converted to fresh water in a sustainable process and with an easy distribution system. What better way is to distribute than in a straight line. The water system will require a significant investment for sure, but Saudi Arabia is willing to bet that the stability that THE LINE will bring the inner west region will pay for itself.
How does NEOM plan to ensure the energy supply in such a large and deserted region, without using oil?
This is a very interesting point, as I mentioned, NEOM is not just THE LINE. The idea is to have hydrogen as a main source of energy. And doing this in KSA the largest net exporter of oil is indeed a great accomplishment. Producing hydrogen will require of course an entire new program that will be based on new hydrogen generation technology capable of generating sufficient energy to power NEOM. Saudi Arabia has started by bringing together the best technologist and engineering and make a first pilot facility which can lead to the established world’s largest green hydrogen production plant. In parallel, it will be also essential to predict the basic system which will distribute this energy to each piece of THE LINE. More importantly, it is key to assess the capacity of hydrogen required to operate the entire system This pilot, expected for 2024, will be the steppingstone for the energetic green power supply to THE LINE and NEOM.
INCONCRETO is an elite consultancy firm that retains talented engineers and project experts from all over the world. What services can you provide to such a unique project?
I think that there are a lot of areas in which INCONCRETO can bring a help contribute to the NEOM. INCONCRETO has a great mix of talented consultants that understand capital projects. Our team accounts for project managers, engineers, technology experts coming from different backgrounds and experiences making us a truly global team. We have a proven background of delivering results on large complex capital projects around the globe. Together, our consultants have accumulated experiences of managing multi-billion in project budgets and delivered projects on all continents in the world, starting from the middle east and Saudi Arabia of course. We know and respect the Arab culture and we clearly understand what it will take to develop something of this magnitude in the region.
INCONCRETO understands the limits of what engineering, science and technology can do today. The example of THE LINE is telling: the concept of a multi-level 100-mile-long city is not an utopistic adventure, but it implies a strong and well-trained engineer thinking. In case of a catastrophic event that destroys a segment of THE LINE, the project rational is to have a fail proof design that guarantees not to lose the entirety of THE LINE, and mainly its infrastructure, utilities, and general functionality of the networks.
INCONCRETO has been created to have the experience and benchmarks to prevent this kind of risks and to propose workable solutions. Finally, the concept behind INCONCRETO is to make generally available to the world an innovative online rating system. Comparing your capital projects to best in class global programs. We have been developing online questionnaires built on our IP algorithm which assess each client project thoroughly, highlighting potential weakness and suggesting actionable items to avoid unpleasant project surprises. Basic project information is inputted into our program and the output deliverable is a professional ratings report and analysis made available to the customers telling them where the gaps in their strategy are. Additionally, we highlight risks and mitigants and where they potentially need to be able, We then provide a gold, silver or bronze star rating according to our comparative analysis and chances of project success. We indicate whom within our network of consultants and experts can intervene to provide a more substantial support. Regarding NEOM specifically, we can provide a value proposition to help deliver the strategy for the different phases of the project.
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