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Private sector innovation will save our natural environment

While politicians talk about curbing emissions, private sector innovations are actively driving the transition to renewable energy

Red Sea Global CEO John Pagano says the new tourist destination in Saudi Arabia will protect the natural environment and be powered exclusively by renewable energy

Who today remembers Augustin Mouchot? The French mathematician developed the first solar-powered printing press, and, in 1878 he and his assistant won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris for their solar-powered engine. 

Mouchot might have become the Thomas Edison of solar energy. Instead he died poor and largely forgotten after the French government concluded that solar power wasn’t economically feasible and withdrew the funding his research required.

I relate this footnote from history as a cautionary tale about the risks of expecting governments to take the bold action necessary to meet the challenges of climate change.

Although politicians and public officials set policies and influence populations, they lack the entrepreneurial spark and drive needed to achieve a long-term solution to global warming. 

Having joined in last month’s discussions at Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, I came away firmly convinced that the private sector must take the lead in this effort.

Talking about curbing greenhouse gas emissions is easy. Taking action is the hard part. We can’t afford to wait for our political leaders, no matter how admirable their intentions, to strike a decisive blow for humanity in our battle against climate change. The stakes are too high. 

Instead, private businesses and individuals hold the key to this lock on our future. Innovators like Mouchot and countless modern-day companies are developing ways to limit, and even undo, the damage we are inflicting on our Earth.

The good news is that technologies already exist for us to succeed at doing this. What’s lacking is the will to promote and apply them on a large scale.

Solar, wind and other types of renewable energy are the basis of any viable solution.

It’s a positive sign that Cop27 was the first United Nations conference on climate change to refer explicitly to the need to speed up the transition to renewable energy.

But we’re still too far from making deep enough cuts in emissions to limit an increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

John Pagano Red Sea
John Pagano, CEO of Red Sea Global: ‘Unless we act now, the future of our natural environment and human society as we know it will be in jeopardy’

‘Drumbeat’ of renewables

The UN itself said in October that we need to slash emissions by 45 percent to avert a global catastrophe.

Selwin Hart, the UN assistant secretary-general for climate action, said this month that renewables must be the “drumbeat” for future Cops.

The problem with Cop, however, is that there are too many interests competing to protect their respective positions.

These turf battles come at the expense of reducing our emissions. I worry that Cop28 will be similar to Cop27, with participants talking about opportunities missed rather than successes achieved.

This is where the private sector can make the crucial difference. My company Red Sea Global is one example. We’re developing the world’s largest tourism destination powered exclusively by renewable energy.

While we could have saved money by taking electricity from the grid in our home country of Saudi Arabia, we decided that renewable power was essential for us as a responsible developer that prioritises people and planet.

The area we’re developing at The Red Sea destination ranges from mountains and desert to pristine islands. Our first three resorts will open early next year, with the remaining 13 hotels in the first phase becoming operational in 2024.   

To power them all, as well as the electric vehicles that will transport our guests, we awarded a $1.3 billion contract to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power to design, build, operate and transfer The Red Sea’s entire utilities infrastructure. 

Red Sea Project
The Grand Hyatt at the Red Sea Project: sustainable resorts will open early next year

Unique partnership

It was a unique arrangement. Instead of awarding a contract for a single utility, we wrapped all our utilities into one agreement as a public-private partnership. The consortium will deliver not only renewable power but also drinking water, wastewater treatment, solid waste management and district cooling.

The PPP secured financing from Standard Chartered Bank and other banks, proof that our project has international support.

To date, the PPP has installed more than 450,000 photovoltaic panels at our solar farms, a 69 percent completion rate. Once operational, these panels will create an annual savings of about half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. 

We’re also building the world’s largest battery storage facility, with a planned capacity of 1,200 megawatt hours, and we’re working with a company called ZeroAvia to fly hydrogen-powered seaplanes.  

Red Sea Global is helping to lead the energy transition. And I’m happy to see that we’re not alone. According to the International Energy Agency, renewables capacity is set to almost double over the next five years, overtaking coal as the largest source of electricity generation by 2025.

The private sector is pushing the boundaries. Unlike Mouchot, the 19th-century solar pioneer, we are not ahead of our time. 

This matters: Unless we act now, the future of our natural environment and human society as we know it will be in jeopardy.

John Pagano is CEO of Red Sea Global

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