200 GW Saudi-Softbank solar plans abandoned – reports

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In March, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Japan-based SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, to establish a US$200 billion, 200 GW solar project in Saudi Arabia.

According to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, which cites unnamed Saudi government officials, these plans have now been shelved, with no one actively working on the project.

Instead, the officials said, Saudi Arabia is working on a new, “more practical” renewable energy strategy, which is expected to be announced some time this month.

Ambitious plans

At a briefing in New York back in March, Softbank’s Son said the mega project would encompass equipment manufacturing and battery storage, in addition to solar systems, with the potential for up to 100,000 jobs to be created and $40 billion in power cost savings.

SoftBank originally intended to invest the funds via its Vision Fund – the largest technology investment fund, ever, and which has backing from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; and companies including Apple, Sharp and Foxconn.

As a first phase, $1 billion was expected to be invested in installing 7.2 GW of new capacity over a two year time period.

Already in March, Bloomberg NEF questioned the ambitious plans. “It’s a memorandum of understanding, it doesn’t really mean much. Saudi Arabia has a long history of announcing big numbers on a long timeframe, and these are usually subject to substantial revision,” Jenny Chase, head of solar told pv magazine.

She added, “The first phase of 7.2 GW is the more interesting number to keep an eye on – big, but likely to happen in a timeframe we can foresee. That said, in principle Softbank has a huge appetite for making investments, and Saudi has growing energy demand – as also evidenced by its nuclear announcements of 16 reactors in the next 25 years.”