Saudi Arabia and SoftBank plan world's largest solar project

Masayoshi Son chairman and chief executiveof Soft Bank Group shakes hands with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in New York after signing an agreement for the huge solar project. Jeenah Moon  Bloomberg

SoftBank's Son says to create world's biggest solar power company in Saudi Arabia

That's about how long it's anticipated it will take to build out all 200 gigawatts of the project.

Oil-rich - and sun-blessed - Saudi Arabia has pursued an increasingly ambitious renewables programme, including wind and solar tender rounds created to propel it to 9.5GW of renewable energy capacity by 2023.

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.

"You have never seen something of this scale", he is reported as saying.

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The project is planned for the Saudi desert and at 200 gigawatts, it's going to be 100 times larger than the next biggest proposed solar farm.

The ample sunshine and land and Saudi Arabia's pool of engineers and skilled workers make the foray into solar there lucrative, Son said. It will reach its maximum capacity by 2030 and may cost close to $1 billion per gigawatt.

According to Masayoshi, the project is likely to reduce power costs by $40 billion and create around 100,000 jobs. He predicted that the project would add as much as $12 billion to the gross national product of Saudi Arabia.

The final investment total for the 200 GW of generation, including the solar panels, battery storage and a manufacturing facility for panels in Saudi Arabia, will eventually total around $200bn, Son said. The Indian-born dealmaker, valued for his Silicon Valley connections and growth-company investments, spearheaded major offshore acquisitions for SoftBank.

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Saudi Arabia has had renewable energy on the agenda for some time now, but it was only past year that ministers in the country implemented plans for the first projects.

Virtually all of Saudi Arabia's power comes from oil or natural gas.

The sale of about a 5 percent stake in oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co.is expected to provide more funds for investments. "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". Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which has more than $224 billion in assets, spent about $54 billion on investments a year ago.

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