Saudi Arabia and SoftBank Group Corp. signed a
memorandum of understanding to build a
$200 billion solar power development that’s exponentially larger than any
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, known for backing ambitious endeavors
with flair, unveiled the project last week in New York at a ceremony with Saudi
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The powerful heir to the throne of the
world’s largest crude exporter is seeking to diversify the economy and wean off
a dependence on oil.
The deal is the latest in a number of eye-popping announcements from
Saudi Arabia promising to scale up its access to renewables. While the kingdom
has for years sought to get a foothold in clean energy, it was only in 2017
that ministers moved forward with the first projects, collecting bids for a
300-MW plant in October.
At 200 GW, the
Softbank project planned for the Saudi desert would be about 100 times larger
than the next biggest proposed development and more than double what the global photovoltaic industry supplied
last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“It’s a huge step in human history,” Prince Mohammed said. “It’s bold,
risky and we hope we succeed doing that.”
If built, the development would almost triple Saudi Arabia’s electricity
generation capacity, which stood at 77 GW in 2016, according to BNEF data.
About two thirds of that is generated by natural gas, with the rest coming from
small-scale solar projects working there now.[sen]