Published: Thu, March 29, 2018
Medical | By Bryan Strickland

SoftBank, Saudi Arabia announce massive US$200B solar power project

SoftBank, Saudi Arabia announce massive US$200B solar power project

SoftBank Group's Vision Fund will invest in creating the world's biggest solar power project in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, known for backing ambitious endeavors with flair, unveiled the project Tuesday in NY at a ceremony with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The first solar panels will be imported from an established manufacturer, Son said, but all the equipment for the project will be manufactured in Saudi Arabia after the first couple of years. The solar park has to reach its maximum capacity by 2030 and may cost almost 1 billion Dollars per gigawatt.

Installation of the solar panels is planned to start this year, and the project should start producing electricity by the middle of next year.

The ample sunshine and land and Saudi Arabia's pool of engineers and skilled workers make the foray into solar there lucrative, Son said.

The deal was signed on the sidelines of a USA visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has undertaken a whirlwind of economic and social reforms. "That said, the first 7.2GW phase is the interesting bit; this is a lot of solar, but could be delivered over 2-3 years as an indication of Saudi Arabia's real capacity to implement the plan".

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The project is another high profile investment for SoftBank Vision Fund, which has become an aggressive player in the venture capital space since it was founded two years ago. "It is worth noting that many of these memorandums of understanding do not result in anything happening".

Despite being one of the world's sunniest countries, Saudi Arabia generates most of its electricity from oil-fired power plants. The fund has already invested in companies in the U.S., India and Europe. To build up its renewable energy sector, the crown prince has outlined an initial target of generating 9.5 gigawatts of renewable energy in his "Vision 2030" plan, which is a blueprint of mostly economic targets aimed at creating more jobs for the country's majority young population entering the workforce in the coming years and diversifying the economy away from its reliance on oil exports for revenue.

Mr Son, who is known as a savvy investor with a flair for the spotlight, has been promoting clean energy since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and recently completed a 50-megawatt wind power farm in Mongolia.

The kingdom's deal-making has quickened as it pursues Prince Mohammed's diversification goals. The sale of about a 5 per cent stake in oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co is expected to provide more funds.

Saudi Arabia also plans to build at least 16 nuclear reactors in the next 25 years at a cost of more than 80 billion United States dollars. And by burning oil and gas for electricity, it has one of the largest per capita rates of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, which could shrink if the country turns toward renewables.

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