Model city in the making

Coral reefs off Yabou island in the Red Sea ... Neom has joined hands with Kaust to establish the world’s largest coral garden at Shushah Island.

With the launch of The Line – described as a revolution in urban living – early this year, the $500-billion Neom development in Saudi Arabia sent a powerful message to the world that it aims to be a model city of the future.

True to its name which is derived from two words – the first three letters from the Ancient Greek prefix neo meaning “new”, and the fourth letter from the abbreviation of Mostaqbal, an Arabic word meaning “future” – Neom intends to set the benchmark for future living and creating a model for what the world should look like in the future.

Located north of the Red Sea, east of Egypt across the Strait of Tiran and south of Israel and Jordan, Neom will cover a total area of 26,500 sq km and will extend 460 km along the coast of the Red Sea. It is part of the world-class, diversified portfolio of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.

Campsites are in place and work is set to get off the ground on the initial developments.

Campsites are in place and work is set to get off the ground on the initial developments.

The Line – which will link the Red Sea coast with the mountains and upper valleys of the northwest of Saudi Arabia – is one of the most complex and challenging infrastructure projects in the world and forms part of the extensive development work already under way at Neom. The linear development extending over a 170-km belt of hyper-connected future communities – without cars and roads and built around nature – aims to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today such as the legacy infrastructure that today’s cities are currently restricted by, pollution, traffic, and human congestion, according to Neom. In this city of the future, walkability is key, with roads and streets replaced by piazzas and walkable boulevards filled with parks and green spaces (see also Gulf Construction, May 2021).

Some of the city’s aspirations were highlighted by key Neom officials at the “Smart City and Green Energy on the Horizon, Neom in Saudi Arabia” virtual conference held in July. 

According to an Arab News report, Chief Executive Nadhmi Al Nasr said: “Neom is meant to be a model where this region will be a semi-independent free zone, it will have its own laws, it will have its own regulations and its own authority as a semi-government. The reason for this is because it is our vision to make this the most competitive free zone in the world. That is not an easy task but we are up to it.”

“We are on a mission to provide the world with a real model of what environmental sustainability would mean. We will redefine environmental sustainability,” Al Nasr added.

Also addressing the conference was Peter Terium, Managing Director of Energy, Water and Fuel at Neom, who said: “We are going to build a land of the future, and the future is about sustainability. And we know that globally, energy production is one of the main contributors to carbon emissions and therefore it’s our aim to build a country that is 100 per cent supplied by renewable energy with zero carbon emissions.

“Just to give you a feel for the size of what we’re talking about. We are thinking about a society in 2030 that will need 30 gigawatts or 30,000 megawatts of installed capacity to support its energy consumption.”

Artificial intelligence would be used to maximise the profit of the renewable energy operator in a grid where various renewable energy sources were coupled together to satisfy demand, he said. Consumers at Neom would likely have solar panels mounted on the roofs of their houses, battery-powered cars with storage capabilities, as well as storage capabilities within their homes. To implement generation and distribution, as well as manage the variable alternative sources to the grid, Terium talked about the need to develop a cascading grid of smart grids that brought together the technology and intelligence to manage a 100 per cent renewable system.

“We have a pretty unique position in Neom because we are among the top five as far as solar energy is concerned. This region is very spacious and vast, with conditions best suited to generate volumes of energy not only from solar but also wind energy, and the combination of these two is very important,” Terium said.

With sustainability at its core, Neom will ensure 95 per cent of its land is left to nature.  In line with this goal, Neom and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) in June embarked on a joint project to establish the world’s largest coral garden at Shushah Island in the Red Sea area of the futuristic city.

The 100-hectare Shushah Island Coral Reefscape, which is expected to be completed in 2025, will showcase reef restoration innovations and accelerate solutions for conserving coral reefs in a changing climate. 

Also, all companies engaged on Neom projects will need to demonstrate their commitment to environment-friendliness. For instance, Tabuk Concrete Company, which is supplying concrete to contractors operating in Neom is sourcing new equipment to make sure its construction methods are as green as possible. According to an Arab News report, the company is purchasing Putzmeister’s iONTRON concrete pump, in order to comply with guidelines set by Neom.

The iONTRON – which will be making its Middle East debut next year – will reduce both carbon dioxide emissions and noise pollution, and electricity will be used instead of liquid fuel to power the concrete pump, which results in less direct emissions.

While the Neom project was conceptualised back in 2017, the past three years have gone into masterplanning of the majority of the regions and masterplan completion. Key global advisers and a team of international project managers are already on board spearheading the initial work on site including infrastructural development and setting up campsites and utilities.

Gulf Construction sent William Grieve to the site to witness first-hand the work in progress (see Page 42)