In its latest efforts to increase access to renewables and reduce dependence on oil, Saudi Arabia has drawn up plans to build the world’s biggest solar farm, which, if realized, would create 100,000 jobs in the oil-rich kingdom and produce 200 gigawatts (GW) of energy, a third more than the global photovoltaic industry supplied worldwide last year.
The farm, which could cost $200 billion would be partially bankrolled by Japanese SoftBank and would involve the construction of solar parks throughout Saudi Arabia and a large battery to store the energy generated by the panels.
Masayoshi Son, SoftBank founder and Japanese tech billionaire, and Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince, announced the plans late Tuesday in New York for what they say is the world’s biggest solar project.
Saudi Arabia has had renewable energy on the agenda for some time now, but it was only last year that ministers in the country implemented plans for the first projects.
If built, the farm would nearly triple the country’s electricity generation capacity, which stood at 77GW in 2016 and is comprised entirely of natural gas and oil.
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.”
Indeed, last year the corporation announced a joint tech fund, the Vision Fund, with the Saudi Arabian government. At $93 billion it’s not large enough to pay for the mammoth solar project, but it’s thought the fund will contribute to some of its costs.
The initial investment is $5 billion, of which $1 billion will come from the SoftBank (SFTBF) fund. The rest will come from loans that will be paid off through revenue generated by selling electricity from the vast solar project, Son said.
The project is so big that it’s expected to take more than a decade to finish. The current target is for it to be completed by 2030. Its massive scale will create entire industries in Saudi for the manufacturing and installation of solar equipment.
That will include training facilities and a research and development center “so the new technology will continue to evolve,” Son said.
The project will eventually generate 200 gigawatts of energy, far more than any existing solar project. It would provide enough electricity to simultaneously power about 20 billion LED light bulbs.
Installation of the solar panels is planned to start this year, and the project should start producing electricity by the middle of next year.
The first solar panels will be imported from an established manufacturer, Son said, but all the equipment for the project will be manufactured in Saudi Arabia after the first couple of years.
The Saudi crown prince has been trying to wean the country off its addiction to oil and diversify the economy into new areas. Those efforts have included high-profile investments in technology and plans for a vast new $500 billion city.
Last year, Saudi Arabia pledged $45 billion to invest in technology companies around the world. It’s also trying to create a thriving startup scene at home.