Citing Saudi government officials, the US business daily The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Monday that Saudi plans to build the world’s largest solar power generation facility had been shelved, as the desert kingdom was working on a “broader, more practical strategy to boost renewable energy.”
The solar project was expected to generate about 200 gigawatts of energy by 2030 — more than three times the country’s daily requirement.
“It is easy to sway or grab one’s attention, but difficult to do any execution,” WSJ quoted a senior adviser to the Saudi government as saying. Now, no one was actively working on the project, the source added.
SoftBank, a partner in the $200-billion (€172.4-billion) project, was not immediately available for comment. The Japanese financial group together with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has already created a $100-billion venture, the Vision Fund, aimed at boosting technology investment in the country, including in Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy sector.
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Despite vast deserts and abundant sunshine, Saudi Arabia currently has no solar power generation capacities. Instead, it produces its energy primarily from burning fossil fuels.
However, under plans initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it wants to move away from a heavy dependence on its oil sector toward a more diverse structure of its economy.
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But the country’s entry into the solar market is being hampered by high costs and logistical issues. The project’s first phase alone was expected to gobble up $1 billion, and was due to be funded by the Vision Fund this year.
According to the Saudi officials cited by WSJ, Riyadh hadn’t yet made any decisions on the project’s details, including land acquisition, the structure of development or whether it would receive subsidies from the state.
“Everyone is just hoping this whole idea would just die,” a Saudi energy official familiar with the matter was quoted as saying.
Instead, Saudi officials said the government was now devising a broader renewable energies strategy to be announced in late October, which would help clarify renewable energy goals.
The framework wouldn’t preclude SoftBank from becoming involved in building a solar project in the future, but it wasn’t likely to lead to the development of a massive 200-gigawatt project, the official added.