200 GW: Saudi Arabia plans world’s largest solar development

Article by Adam Duckett

SAUDI ARABIA and Japan’s Softbank have agreed to build the world’s largest solar power project, with plans to spend US$200bn by 2030.

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son signed an MoU with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that aims to build a series of solar projects throughout Saudi Arabia with a capacity of 200 GW, which is enough to power 150m homes.

In 2016 Saudi Arabia announced a national plan – Saudi Vision 2030 – aimed at diversifying its economy away from oil.

Commenting on the solar deal, Prince Mohammed told reporters: “It’s a huge step in human history. It’s bold, risky and we hope we succeed doing that.”

The project seeks to create 100,000 jobs and save US$40bn in power cost by switching oil for solar.

According to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), if built, the development would be 100 times the capacity of the next-largest proposed solar project – Australia’s 2 GW Solar Choice Bulli Creek plant.

Despite its suitability for solar generation, Saudi Arabia currently has only small-scale projects, with renewables in total contributing just 0.1% of installed capacity. According to BNEF, the country had around 77 GW of power generation capacity in 2016, with around two thirds generated by natural gas and the rest from oil.

Son said: “You have never seen something of this scale. The kingdom has great sunshine, [lots of] of available land and great engineers.” 

Prince Mohammed has described Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil as a dangerous addiction. The push to diversify the economy includes creating a world-scale downstream chemicals sector to add value to its crude oil. In November, state majors Saudi Aramco and SABIC agreed to develop the world’s largest crude oil-to-chemicals complex.

It has also announced plans to spark exploration and extraction of the country’s relatively untapped wealth of minerals including uranium, gold and phosphate. Prince Mohammed described its 6% of global uranium reserves as “another oil that we have not exploited”.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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