Saudi Arabia mosque sunset

Saudi Arabia pulls plug on $200bn solar project

Image credit: Pixabay

Saudi Arabia has stopped any further development of its planned $200bn solar farm project, which was funded in conjunction with the Japanese SoftBank Group.

The Saudi kingdom has apparently decided to focus its attention on a broader strategy to boost renewable energy uptake, as the Kingdom seeks to move away from a reliance on oil. More details about the new vision are expected later this month.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son announced the solar plans in March. The projected scheme was destined to be the world’s largest solar power project, generating up to 200GW by 2030 - more than three times the amount of energy required by the whole country and equivalent to two-thirds of the world’s existing solar power.

However, any actual productive work to help the giant solar plant project get off the ground - e.g. acquiring the necessary land - never materialised. One Saudi energy official close to the project was recently quoted as saying, “Everyone is just hoping this whole idea would just die.”

Until recently, the high cost of photovoltaic equipment in the region tempered the Kingdom’s solar ambitions, although falling prices suggested a positive future. However, despite the abundant sunshine and vast tracts of desert available in Saudi Arabia, the storage and connectivity infrastructure for distributing solar energy throughout the country and across nation borders is still lacking. Saudi Arabia has no solar power schemes at all at present, big or small, although the Prince’s ‘Vision 2030’ was anticipated to encourage deeper involvement with renewable energy.

Aside from the abortive solar partnership, Softbank and Saudi have also set up a $100bn fund for technology company investments and start-ups, called The Vision Fund. Softbank is also expected to invest a further $25bn in the Kingdom in the next few years, with much of the money earmarked for Neom, the $500bn futuristic megacity announced by Prince Mohammed in October 2017.

Neom is envisaged as an independent, liberal high-tech megacity in the country, an autonomous district with its own tax and labour laws and judiciary, covering three countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan) across 26,500km2 of currently empty desert along the Red Sea. It could also include the first bridge crossing over the Red Sea between Africa and Asia.

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