Deserts of the future

Deserts of the future


AuthorHugo Frieszo

CompanyDar Al-Handasah

LocationKuwait Middle East

Middle East Planning and Strategy Cities

Kuwait’s GreenTech Corridor

The GreenTech Corridor in the western sub-region of Kuwait is a special development region set to create lasting change in the country and region by becoming a model and testing ground for sustainable development in a desert context.

Welcome to Kuwait’s western sub-region (WSR): a landlocked, isolated, flat, barren desert landscape in excess of 3,000 kmin area, 80 km from the nearest coastline and inhabited area, with practically no assets except three distinctive environmental conditions: the largest continuous land area in the country, the most exposed to the highest prevailing sun and wind intensities, and the lowest sand movement.

Dar Al-Handasah won the bid to undertake the physical development plan for the WSR on behalf of the Kuwait Municipality Master Plan Department in July 2012. The project was managed by the Planning & Urban Design Department at Dar, who employed almost all the engineering, planning and design skills within the firm, and was fortified by SSH, Dar’s local partner in Kuwait. Dar worked with all the diverse stakeholders to achieve a bespoke Integrated Development Plan for the WSR. That plan is the Kuwait GreenTech Corridor.

Green business means business

Globally, green business is driving economic growth - and not just in a peripheral way. The greening of economies is a new engine of structural growth and a net job generator that is environmentally, socially and economically responsible. The green technology economy is one of the fastest growing sectors globally. China, for example, currently outspends the United States in green technology by a ratio of 4 to 1.

In Kuwait, green business is also receiving the government’s stamp of approval. Until the WSR study was undertaken, the best sites to deliver the Kuwait Amiri target had not yet been determined. The Amiri decree states that, by 2030, 15% of all Kuwait’s power needs should come from renewable sources.

Evaporative cooling technologies offer the most potential for a country like Kuwait. Using evaporation-cooled greenhouses and solar energy apparati, these technologies rely on seawater, pollution and sunlight to profitably produce clean energy, clean air, clean potable water, and food. They are also capable of producing biofuel constituents, salt and restorative green growth in the desert.

The WSR was chosen as the most promising site for a green hub. With its comparatively high amount of valuable land permitted for development, combined with the area’s particular environmental characteristics, the WSR was found to offer the most appropriate sites for renewable green technologies related to clean energy, water and food production. 

Settling on the vision for the WSR

Dar began by identifying some factors that the WSR could capitalize on. They zeroed in on manufacturing, industry, energy from the desert environment through specialization in renewables and green technologies, farming, animal husbandry, rural and urban investment housing communities, and managed access to the natural environment.

The ambitious development vision that naturally emerged as The WSR’s three key development goals are therefore to:
- Provide sustainable sources of renewable energy (RE) with the aim of achieving energy security, in line with the Amiri decree (the more RE is used for domestic consumption, the more oil and gas can be sold for export income)
- Achieve food security (in combination with RE processes and abundant resources such as seawater and sun)
- Diversify the economy, creating jobs and new, balanced communities.

These goals will be achieved through a raft of potentially synergizing projects:
- RE generation (solar and wind)
- Seawater greenhouse food production (localized desalination through evaporative cooling)
- Green manufacturing (RE apparati and products)
- Ecologically responsive model settlements in the desert context (eco-towns/villages).

Uniting all these development opportunities is the GreenTech Corridor concept.


Connecting the dots .... The Green Grid of the GreenTech Corridor

GreenTech’s prime innovation is that it generates clean energy, air, food, and water, within a single integrated spatial Green Grid Framework. The framework accommodates ecologically responsive land uses and economic activity, employment and lifestyles in model settlements in a desert context.

The WSR will become Kuwait’s platform for green tech initiatives across all sectors of the economy. The WSR’s physical development plan will entrench green growth and operating practices across all the proposed land uses and infrastructure provision.

Impact of the physical development plan for WSR

By relying on seawater technology, the Corridor will not only generate food and RE, but also provide an adequate context for eco-villages, simultaneously generating more jobs and diversifying the economy.

Projected development up to 2030

Jobs created : 150,000 approximately
Main population: 50,000 approximately
Labor population: 190,000 approximately

The main driver of development in the WSR will be green tech energy production in the form of renewable solar and wind energy parks. In turn, these will be supported by:

- Industrial uses whereby green technology products might be manufactured, such as solar and wind energy apparati
- Agriculture approaches adapted to synergize with renewable technologies and resources
- Model desert settlements that offer ecologically responsive services and lifestyles.

The Corridor will feed off the current As-Salmi Highway linking the Kuwait Metropolitan Area and As-Salmi border, the westernmost tip of Kuwait. The Corridor will be structured spatially by a proposed Green Grid that comes off the highway at various regular intervals. The Grid lines comprise palm grove avenues lending a desert-rural character to the WSR, which are in turn lined on both sides by continuous stretches of productive farms. These farms can be used productively across a range of sustainable activities, or farm franchises, including seawater greenhouses linked to the adjacent RE parks within the Grid.

This Green Grid will access and cover the disparate large tracts of land permitted for development by the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC). The Green Grid is robust and flexible enough to absorb development constraints such as the military shooting range site, KOC servitudes, power lines, and safeguarded aquifers. The Green Grid locates within its spatial framework all the RE parks, industrial estates, free trade zone, and farms supported by a hierarchy of ecologically responsive settlements comprising two anchor eco-towns along the As-Salmi Highway at Al-Naayim and As-Salmi border, and an even distribution of labor towns and villages.

Blazing a trail: The potential for transferability and up-scaling

The Kuwait GreenTech Corridor plan has the potential to be a model to other Gulf countries and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in general. While Abu Dhabi’s high-profile Masdar City project first proposed sustainable urban living relying on RE sources and becoming a hub for clean-tech companies, this development, at 6 km2 in size, differs significantly in scale and scope from the integrated and diverse regional spatial strategy of the WSR spread over 3,000 km2.

The usefulness of the WSR model can be illustrated in the following way:
- The model is highly transferable under similar environmental conditions, and more so with similar compelling economic conditions that reach locally and regionally
- No other Middle Eastern country has planned or sought to pioneer a greentech initiative at this scale that generates clean energy, air, food, and water, within an integrated spatial green framework of ecologically responsive economic activity, land uses and rural/urban settlements
- Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) pooling of resources can contribute to a wider cross-border regional green infrastructure network that can yield even further efficiencies, products and services.


The initial challenge for a vision of this kind comes from the limitations of the current institutional framework in Kuwait.

The second challenge is the almost unprecedented scale of the technically complex RE infrastructure, which is developing at such a rapid pace that last year’s technology is already obsolete. What is more, GreenTech Corridor’s infrastructure needs to meet the 15% target by 2030.

Thirdly, the project’s success cannot depend on the public sector alone. Development in the WSR can only be achieved through a constructive engagement of the public sector with the private sector. Right now, the current public sector establishment cannot deliver the RE infrastructure by itself. It must consider a privatization effort to deliver the GreenTech Corridor, while still providing a necessary regulatory and investment-friendly role.

Closing thoughts

There are, indeed, challenges to overcome to deliver these ideas and achieve the WSR GreenTech Corridor. Yet, clearly, the planning for energy and food resource security, supported by ecologically responsive industrial activity and model desert development, remains a worthwhile pursuit to sustain Kuwait going forward. An added bonus is the capacity to sell more oil and gas for export income. The GreenTech Corridor will create a more diversified economy and bolster the main economy with a green one, including all its attendant benefits.


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