Explainer: Are physical events making a comeback in the GCC?
Events that are the leaders in their sector will probably recover quicker as customers will reduce the number of exhibitions they attend
The events sector has been among the worst hit by the Covid crisis. How has the industry in the GCC tackled the situation?
In March 2020, the exhibition industry came to an abrupt halt and every event organiser in the GCC felt the impact. During the last 18 months the events sector has had to work quickly and creatively to adapt their business models to provide value for the markets in which they operate. Many have gone online to provide alternative ways of staying in touch with their markets through webinars and virtual exhibitions, although the results have been mixed.
Because of travel restrictions, we decided at a very early stage that we would need to transition our exhibitions from international to local. This strategy for our recent Index and
Hotel Show events in Dubai worked extremely well and will form the basis of how we operate going forward. We have used the 15 months break from live events to speak with our customers and understand their (new) needs. This has really paid off in the UAE and we are hopeful to repeat the same for our upcoming events in Saudi Arabia.
Have you noticed demand returning for physical events?
Index Dubai and Hotel Show Dubai were the first events we organised in 15 months and while they were smaller because of fewer international exhibitors, the number of trade visitors exceeded our expectations. I believe there is a real desire for people to get back to face-to-face after spending the last 15 months communicating over Zoom and being unable to meet with industry colleagues. We’re currently planning to reopen our events business in Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi Entertainment & Amusement (SEA) Expo, INDEX Saudi and The Hotel Show Saudi – all taking place in
September as the first live events to return to the kingdom.
We have seen domestic and international restrictions imposed overnight – how do you handle such sudden changes?
The one predictable thing about operating in a pandemic is that it’s unpredictable. Many of the decisions that impact our events are completely out of our control, so we focus on what we can control. That has been supporting local businesses and building an event for the local community that won’t be impacted by travel restrictions. By adopting this approach, we’ve reduced the risks and minimised the volatility that many international events are experiencing.
We also assumed from day one that it’s unlikely
international exhibitors will travel to the GCC and those that do book stands may cancel at any time, dependent on travel restrictions. This means we’ve had to be flexible with international exhibitors, allowing them to cancel without penalty if they are unable to travel and moving their bookings to 2022.
What can be done to increase confidence among attendees and increase participation at in-person events?
The Dubai government and Dubai World Trade Centre have introduced some very clear guidelines for organisers, which makes it very safe for people attending our events. We have wider aisles, no queuing for registration, socially distanced seminar theatres and a range of other measures designed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our guests.
However, even with all these measures in place, we do understand that it could take some time before everyone is confident about attending exhibitions again and we have to ensure that we continue to maintain health safety standards at all our events.
Looking ahead, when do you expect the events industry in the region to recover?
We expect our events to recover to pre-pandemic levels by 2023 or 2024 at the latest, but it depends on the event, the sector and how quickly the world recovers.
Events that are the leaders in their sector will probably recover quicker as customers will reduce the number of events they attend. However, the pandemic has also levelled the playing field and in the medium term, to remain competitive, event organisers will have to work harder to inspire, educate and entertain their audiences.
Lastly, with the big shift to virtual events – will they become the norm in the future? Or will ‘hybrid’ events become part of the new normal?
Virtual events have served a purpose during the pandemic, but I think their future is uncertain.
If you’re running an event that focuses on providing high-quality educational content, then virtual events may be able to deliver some benefit, particularly if you’re trying to attract a global audience that won’t travel. However, we run product focused trade events in the design, entertainment, and hotel sectors where buyers come to source products. These buyers need to sit in the chair, check the quality and feel the fabric – something they cannot do virtually.
Virtual event technology has been around for over 20 years and before the pandemic, very few event organisers ran virtual events, because there simply wasn’t the demand. Has the pandemic changed this? Possibly, but we’ll have to wait and see. I personally believe that the need to meet face-to-face is essential because it builds strong business relationships, the quality of which can never be replicated online.
reductions remain essential to advance the shift away from fossil fuels. While grid-sized solar farms are now typically cheaper than even the most advanced coal or gas-fired plants, additional savings will be required to pair clean energy sources with the expensive storage technology that’s needed for around-the-clock carbonfree power. Bigger factories, the use of automation and more efficient production methods have delivered economies of scale, lower labour costs and less material waste for the solar sector. The average cost of a solar panel dropped by 90 per cent from 2010 to 2020. Boosting power generation per panel means developers can deliver the same amount of electricity from a smaller-sized operation. That’s potentially crucial as costs of land, construction, engineering and other equipment haven’t fallen in the same way as panel prices. It can even make sense to pay a premium for more advanced technology. “We’re seeing people willing to pay a higher price for a higher wattage module that lets them produce more power and make more money off their land,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar researcher at BloombergNEF. Higher-powered systems are already arriving. Through much of the past decade, most solar panels produced a maximum of about 400 watts of electricity. In early 2020, companies began selling 500-watt panels, and in June, China-based Risen Energy Co. introduced a 700-watt model. “More powerful and highly-efficient modules will reduce costs throughout the solar project value chain, supporting our outlook for significant sector growth over the next decade,” Fitch Solutions analysts said in a research note. Here are some of the ways that solar companies are super-charging panels:
While many current developments involve tweaks to existing technologies, perovskite promises a genuine breakthrough. Thinner and more transparent than polysilicon, the material that’s traditionally used, perovskite could eventually be layered on top of existing solar panels to boost efficiency, or be integrated with glass to make building windows that also generate power.
“MORE POWERFUL AND HIGHLYEFFICIENT MODULES WILL REDUCE COSTS THROUGHOUT THE SOLAR PROJECT VALUE CHAIN, SUPPORTING OUR OUTLOOK FOR SIGNIFICANT SECTOR GROWTH OVER THE NEXT DECADE”
“We will be able to take solar power to the next level,” said Kim Dohyung, principal researcher on a perovskite project team at Korea Electric Power Corp, one of several companies experimenting with the material. “Ultimately, this new technology will enable us to make a huge contribution in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”
Adoption of perovskite has previously been challenged by costs and technical issues that prevented commercial-scale production. There are now signs that’s changing: Wuxi UtmoLight Technology Co. in May announced plans to start a pilot line by October with mass production beginning in 2023.
Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies Inc., which makes wafers for solar cells, last month said it’s merging with Hunt Perovskite Technologies. The new company, called CubicPV, combines two complementary technologies that offer the potential to create more efficient panels. It plans to produce photovoltaic products that will use Hunt’s perovskite technology, layered atop a silicon wafer developed by 1366.
Solar panels typically get their power from the side that faces the sun, but can also make use of the small amount of light that reflects back off the ground. Bi-facial panels started to gain in popularity in 2019, with producers seeking to capture the extra increments of electricity by replacing opaque backing material with specialist glass. They were also temporarily boosted by a since-closed loophole in the US that exempted them from tariffs.
The trend caught solar glass suppliers off-guard and briefly caused prices for the material to soar. Late last year, China loosened regulations around glass manufacturing capacity, and that should prepare the ground for more widespread adoption of the two-sided solar technology.
Another change that can deliver an increase in power is shifting from positively charged silicon material for solar panels to negatively charged, or n-type, products.
N-type material is made by doping polysilicon with a small amount of an element with an extra electron like phosphorous. It’s more expensive, but can be as much as 3.5 per cent more powerful than the material that currently dominates. The products are expected to begin taking market share in 2024 and be the dominant material by 2028, according to PV-Tech.
In the solar supply chain, ultra-refined polysilicon is shaped into rectangular ingots, which are in turn sliced into ultrathin squares known as wafers. Those wafers are wired into cells and pieced together to form solar panels.
BIGGER WAFERS, BETTER CELLS
For most of the 2010s, the standard solar wafer was a 156-millimetre (6.14 inches) square of polysilicon, about the size of the front of a CD case. Now, companies are making the squares bigger to boost efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs. Producers are pushing 182- and 210-millimetre wafers, and the larger sizes will grow from about 19 per cent of the market share this year to more than half by 2023, according to Wood Mackenzie’s Sun.
The factories that wire wafers into cells – which convert electrons excited by photons of light into electricity – are adding new capacity for designs like heterojunction or tunnel-oxide passivated contact cells. While more expensive to make, those structures allow the electrons to keep bouncing around for longer, increasing the amount of power they generate.