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

Son said that it has signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday evening to build a $200 billion biggest solar power project in Saudi Arabia.

If built, the farm would almost triple the country's electricity generation capacity, which stood at 77GW in 2016 and is comprised entirely of natural gas and oil.

CNBC reported that the project includes the building of solar parks, integrating battery technology, and constructing a massive new facility that will integrate solar equipment manufacturing.

A statement released past year in October by PIF revealed that a MoU had been signed to create the "Solar Energy Plan 2030" which would happen through the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC). "We have great sunshine, land and great engineers and labour", Prince Mohammed told reporters in NY, as quoted by Bloomberg. The solar park has to reach its maximum capacity by 2030 and may cost almost 1 billion Dollars per gigawatt.

The initial phase of the project, for 7.2 GW of solar capacity, will cost $5bn, with $1bn coming from SoftBank's Vision Fund and the rest from project financing, he said.

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Expanding into renewable energy is a key part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, a plan spearheaded by Prince Mohammed to diversify the nation's oil-dependent economy.

In a midnight press briefing in NY the Crown Prince said that the kingdom will match $1bn in financing put forward by SoftBank to begin the first phase of the project later this year which aims to develop 7.2GW of installed solar power by 2019 with the help of debt financing. It is also expected to save the kingdom $40 billion by obviating the need to burn domestically produced oil to generate power.

If it is built, the solar park will increase almost three times the capacity of Saudi Arabia to produce electricity, reaching 77 gigawatts in 2016.

The announcement happened during the NY leg of Prince Mohammed's trip across the United States. The fund has already invested in companies in the U.S., India and Europe.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum gathered American and Saudi business leaders in NY, where the kingdom announced about three dozen memorandums of understanding with U.S. firms, which are often the first step in establishing business ventures. A factory unit is being planned in the kingdom to manufacture the panels locally. The fund is now closed.

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