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Saudi Arabia and UK to invest in space-based solar power development 

Ambitious yet untested technology aims to wirelessly transmit energy to Earth from space
Handout file photo of Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour (Reuters)
The International Space Station, backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, as photographed by crew on the space shuttle Endeavour (Reuters)

The UK and Saudi Arabia have discussed investing in joint, space-based solar power (SBSP) projects.

A collaboration between Neom megacity and UK company Space Solar could see “significant investment” into the project by both governments in the coming years, according to a UK government press release.

SBSP is an ambitious yet untested concept of using solar panels in space to collect solar energy and transmit it wirelessly to Earth. 

The discussions took place on Thursday at meetings between Grant Shapps, the UK business secretary, and Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Arabia’s minister of communications and information technology.

The UK government said Saudi Arabia has shown “encouraging signs” in the fields of social reform and human rights and is “full of opportunity for the UK economy".

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It hailed Neom as a new project that will “incorporate smart city innovations, world-class technology and data intelligence”.

Shapps said during the meeting that Saudi Arabia is "on an ambitious journey to modernise its economy and society, which opens up a host of opportunities for burgeoning British businesses, exporting UK expertise that could transform global access to renewable energy, including space-based solar power".

Neom: Saudi tribesman sentenced to death over megaproject protest 'was tortured'
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Neom, part of Saudi Arabia’s sweeping Vision 2030 economic plan, is a $500bn megacity development project in Tabuk province. It is set to include a 170km straight-line city, an eight-sided city that floats on water and a ski resort with a folded vertical village

To make way for the construction, set for completion by 2025, Saudi authorities have been accused of various violations against members of the Howeitat tribe who inhabit the area.

These include forcible evictions, arrests and torture, as well as prison and death sentences for some of the project’s opponents.

In 2020, Saudi special forces shot dead Abdul Rahim al-Howeiti, 43, after he had protested against the government's eviction orders, including in videos he regularly posted to YouTube.

Saudi forces alleged he opened fire and they were forced to retaliate, a claim which tribe members have vigorously denied.

The Neom project has also raised “concerns about the use of digital technology to surveil future residents”, according to Human Rights Watch

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