10 Technologies disrupting the GCC

From artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, transformative science and technology has generated vast amounts of coverage in recent years.

But while many of the innovations that promise to shape the region in the coming years are still new, and sometimes experimental, others are widely known, even if not yet in common use.

As part of its special series of reports to mark the launch of the MEED Awards 2019, MEED looks at 10 technologies set to transform the Middle East over the next decade.

Grid-scale batteries to enable energy diversification

Global investment in high-capacity batteries is transforming the market for renewable energy.  The large-scale adoption of alternative energy has long been hampered by the unreliable, inflexible nature of its major sources, the wind and sun. The problems caused by intermittent energy production can only be solved by developing effective storage solutions; batteries that can store energy at peak production times for later deployment.

A significant drop in the prices of lithium and vanadium – essential battery components – in addition to improvements in battery efficiency, are enabling large scale adoption of energy storage facilities.

Abu Dhabi’s recent launch of the region’s first Grid Scale Battery Deployment and the world’s largest Virtual Battery Plant is indicative of the region’s commitment to diversifying its energy supply.

Digital payment – fintech

The initial caution of governments in GCC to digital payments and financial technology (fintech) is beginning to abate and the first online payments were made across the region in 2018, following a series successful trials of the technology that persuaded authorities to relax regulation. With limited  access to banking facilities, an estimated 86 per cent of adults in the region (Reuters) do not have a bank account. This, coupled with an increase in the mobile phone capabilities makes the MENA market a real opportunity for fintech investment. Research company MENA Research Partners estimated the fintech market in the MENA region to be worth US$2 billion in 2018 and it is expected to reach US$2.5 billion by 2022.

‘Smart’ everything

There is a growing realisation that complex systems such as oil fields, electricity grids, building sites and entire cities can be managed more effectively if siloed data can be combined on a single platform. New remote sensor technology can provide critical real-time data, allowing managers to make quick, informed decisions and increasingly intelligent software is being developed to automate complex processes. Internet of Things (IoT), which is a convergence of technologies such as remote sensors, machine learning and real-time analytics is central to the development of these smart, digital ecosystems.

Autonomous vehicles

The GCC has been a global frontrunner in the uptake of autonomous driving, with UAE leading the way. The Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) launched the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy which aims to make 25% of Dubai transportation autonomous by 2030, saving USD 6 billion annually. The RTA is currently conducting tests to decide the winners of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport, which are focused on the provision of first/last Mile transportation.

5G supporting the new digital ecosystem

In May this year, Emirates Telecommunication Company, Etisalat, launched the region’s first 5G enabled smartphones. The new 5G networks transfer data 20 times faster than 4G, have a bigger capacity, are more reliable. This vital development is needed to support the emerging ecosystem of digital technologies including IoT, smart cities, cloud computing and autonomous vehicles. According to Globaldata, the number of mobile network subscriptions in the MENA region is expected to be 15.8 million by 2023.

Hydrogen fuel

Shift away from traditional fuel sources to free up crude oil for higher value products and export sees an increase in demand for alternative energy sources. One of the most promising alternative fuels is hydrogen, which can be produced using solar photovoltaic technology.  This will be showcased at Expo 2020 by the use of fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen generated at a solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility at Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park.

Using AI to make the most of VR and AR

Initially gaining popularity through the gaming industry, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are increasingly being used for training, marketing and problem solving. VR systems can have powerful applications when combined with artificial intelligence (AI). For example, it could be possible to develop a microscope that can highlight cancerous cells, or the dashboard of a vehicle that can detect hazards and alert the driver using signals on the dashboard.

Electrification of transport

Electric Vehicles (EVs) potentially are among the most transformative of all emerging technologies, delivering a change as significant as the move from horse-drawn carts and internal combustion engines in the early 2oth century. While electric milk floats and golf buggies have been widely used since the middle of the 20th century, huge leaps forward in battery capacity and materials technology have brought EVs to the edge of becoming mainstream modes of transport. Their  benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions and energy conservation could be huge. Technical challenges ranging from development of electricity charging infrastructure through to battery capacity and safety capabilities remain to be overcome however before EVs they will become our primary mode of transport.

3D printing

By 2025, the global 3D printing market is expected account for an annual spend of over $20bn. The Middle East is recognising the potential of additive manufacturing, with Dubai leading the trend with its 3D printing strategy, announced in April 2016, which set the ambitious target of all constructing 25 per cent of new buildings using additive manufacturing. The sectors that could see the most benefit from the technology are healthcare – for joints, teeth, medical and training equipment, aerospace, consumer manufacturing and construction.

Food security – Vertical farming and hydroponics

Increasing population, extreme climate conditions and political and economic instability are putting food security in the Middle East high on the political agenda. With the region importing over 50 per cent of its food, governments are looking to boost local production using soil-free methods of farming that are 70 per cent more water efficient than traditional methods and use fewer chemicals. New, vertical farming techniques that require less space can be adopted in urban areas to bring production closer to the consumers.


Ten trends driving business in the GCC

In a special report for the MEED Awards 2019, MEED identifies ten trends that will drive future business opportunities in the GCC

Many of the biggest challenges facing policymakers in the Middle East today would be recognised by their predecessors.

Satisfying the demands of a rapidly growing population, diversifying the economy away from oil, and installing adequate infrastructure to support urban expansion have long been key objectives in the region. Other challenges, such as the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to limit the effects of climate change, have emerged more recently.

An understanding that oil prices will stay lower for longer and the perception that ‘Peak Oil’ – the point at which demand from oil stops growing – could be just around the corner, has added sustainable fiscal management to the list of challenges facing the region.

Meanwhile, the transformation of the Asian and southern hemisphere economies from centres of production into producers of technology and major consumers is redrawing the dynamics of the global economy, underpinning the region as a global hub for business and trade.

But while many challenges might be familiar, advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence have created solutions that have never previously been available, so long as the skills can be found.

In a special report for the MEED Awards 2019, MEED examines ten key trends that will drive new business opportunities in the Middle East in the years ahead.

Investing in infrastructure for life

More than 70 per cent of the GCC lives in urban areas. In the UAE, the figure stands at 93 per cent, with the population expected to double by 2027. The pressure is on to meet the needs of the region’s growing urban population.With about $495bn of infrastructure projects planned or under way, governments in the GCC will continue to invest in transport, buildings and utilities to enable their long-term development. Increasing use of public private partnerships (PPP) will see private developers increase their role. But in the future, governments want to get more for their money. Increasingly, infrastructure spending will be seen as whole-life investment rather than just a construction opportunity. There is a growing interest in low impact, energy-efficient developments that are designed to maximise the physical and mental wellbeing of the community. The increase in green building certification schemes and government regulation makes it imperative for developers focus on their green credentials.

Smarter cities for happier communities

Dubai’s ambition to become the smartest city in the world by 2021 highlights a growing trend in the region to invest in balanced urban infrastructure using smart technologies with a sustainable, human-centric, community approach. Greenfield urban development provides the opportunity for holistic, future-proofed planning, but collaboration between traditionally siloed industries is required to deliver the ambition.

Smart grids for energy efficiency

Some $17.6bn is to be invested in the development of smart electricity grids across the Middle East and North Africa by 2027, according to the US-based Northeast Group, with the majority in the GCC. Smart technologies will increasingly being used to manage electricity distribution and to decentralise electricity supply, allowing multiple, small alternative energy providers to feed into a single grid. As well as reducing the region’s reliance on fossil fuels, smart grids also improve efficiency, reliability and security.

Adding value through downstream oil and petrochemicals

Abu Dhabi’s $45bn megaproject to develop Ruwais refinery into a global hub for refined oil products and petrochemicals production highlights a region-wide drive to diversify export revenues away from crude oil and into higher value products, and also to tap growing consumer markets in Asia. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman are all increasing downstream capacity as well as the UAE.

Vocational training

The region faces a chronic shortage of the local skills needed to sustain a locally-driven, knowledge-based economy. The adoption of advanced technologies and advanced manufacturing is at odds with curriculums across the region that are often outdated. The lack of local skills is a major factor in high unemployment rates. Governments across the GCC have been investing in building state-of-the-art schools and universities and importing modern education systems. One area that has been overlooked however is vocational training. In the coming years, governments will increase collaboration with industrial partners and international training bodies to increase vocational training and apprenticeships in the GCC.

Adding value through local manufacturing

International companies will be increasingly expected to establish production and research capacity in the region to support their tender bids. Led by the national oil companies including Saudi Aramco, Adnoc and PDO, government agencies will promote local manufacturing capacity by forcing companies to include locally sourced goods and services in all tenders for government contracts.

A growing global hub

The rise of the Asian and southern hemisphere economies, led by India and China, as consumers and as sources of technology provides the GCC states with a golden opportunity to continue their development as a global hub for business, travel and trade. But with competition increasing from around the world, maintaining that position will underpin considerable future investment in ports, airports, railways and freezones to ensure that the region’s transport and logistics capacity remains world class.

A decade of 5G investment

2020 is set to be the year that 5th generation (5G) of mobile phone technology takes off. The development of 5G networks is needed to deliver many of the future goals for better functioning cities, greater energy efficiency and higher levels of productivity. 5G networks will process data 100 times faster than 4G, removing time latency in telecommunications. New networks, data centres, and technology applications will enable disruptive technologies ranging from autonomous vehicles to smart cities. Over the next decade, billions of dollars will be invested in telecoms infrastructure and front-end applications.

The drive to privatise

The worldwide interest in the proposed sale of a 5 per cent stake in Saudi national oil company Saudi Aramco, demonstrates the international interest in investing in the oil-rich Gulf economies, if the offer is right. Privatising state assets will raise capital for governments and allow finance ministries to remain focused on tight fiscal management and the need to drive ever higher levels of productivity in the economy. So while the ambitions to privatise inefficient state run entities has proved frustratingly slow, the desire to use the private sector to deliver public services remains a top priority.

Circular economy adds waste to clean energy agenda

Led by Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Gulf states have emerged as leading players in the development of renewable energy, particularly solar energy. With every country in the region setting high targets to increase the percentage of clean energy in their electricity supply, the development of alternative sources of energy will continue to be a high priority. The increasing focus on recycling and the circular economy will see the emergence of alternative fuels such as solid waste. Waste-to-energy projects not only provide clean energy but also reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.