Riyadh, Softbank partner for US$200bn solar deal

SoftBank and Saudi Arabia are creating a huge solar power generation project

Saudi Arabia and Japanese telecom giant-turned-tech investor SoftBank expanded their partnership on Tuesday, announcing the world's biggest solar power generation project at a press conference in NY.

The deal is a step towards achieving the Crown Prince's ambition to diversify Saudi Arabia's economy.

Softbank is to invest in the project through its US$100 billion Softbank Vision Fund, created in 2016 with money from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and others.

At 200 gigawatts, the Softbank project planned for the Saudi desert would be about 100 times larger than the next biggest proposed development and a third more than what the global photovoltaic industry supplied worldwide past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son was also a panelist at an investment conference that Riyadh hosted previous year.

"You have never seen something of this scale", he is reported as saying.

Vision Fund also plans investing 10 billion Dollars in state-controlled Saudi Electricity as part of efforts to diversify electricity production with renewable energy and solar power.

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Masayoshi Son, who is known for backing ambitious projects, told reporters at a briefing that "the kingdom has great sunshine, great size of available land and great engineers, great labor, but most importantly, the best and greatest vision".

In theory, one gigawatt can power 725,000 homes, meaning the completed solar plant will have the capacity to power 145 million households, although actual output varies depending on weather conditions.

Son predicts that this project is going to create up to 100,000 jobs in the Kingdom and save it $40 billion in power costs.

Saudi Arabia also plans to build at least 16 nuclear reactors in the next 25 years at a cost of more than 80 billion United States dollars. The remaining $10 billion could be in Saudi Electricity Company. About two-thirds of this energy was generated by natural gas and the rest by oil.

To start $5 billion will be used as the initial investment, of which the Japan-based SoftBank fund will give $1 billion.

The deal is the first major investment by the fund in Saudi Arabia. Unconfirmed reports emerged last year that the Japanese investment firm is planning to pump in over $25 billion over the next three to four years. The electricity demand in the country has grown by 9% a year since 2000.

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