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SoftBank Group and Saudi Arabia plan to spend $200B building a solar power plant (techcrunch.com)
170 points by doppp 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

I always look for the surprising angles in a development of this kind: the knock-on effects. Given 200GW of capacity, in Saudi Arabia, on some days there will be endless electricity.

What I'm thinking is that this will lead to innovation in industrial processes that can productively use a lot of energy in a 4-8 hour window...something you can turn on in a big way and then turn off. Such a process effectively "stores" the energy in the product. The larger the electricity share of such a process, the closer the marginal cost gets to zero during sunny times.

Most modern industrial processes aren't like that: either they're not very power constrained (e.g., a toy factory) or they need the power to be on for a while (e.g., a steel mill). But then again it makes sense these are the types of processing we've perfected, since that's the kind of power we've hard so far in large quantities (coal, nuclear).

Does anyone know of products that can be made quickly by the application of raw energy? I don't know how desalination works, but (just as an example) if there were such a desalination process then Saudi Arabia could desalinate tremendous amounts of water and store it...or even export it to neighbors.

I am not so excited about the idea of a fundamentalist monarchy---one that is helping starve the poor Yemenis---getting even more power, but I am excited about the downstream innovations the fact of nearly-free electricity could potentially create. If SA invents such processes, then they could be copied in other places.

To search for ideas of what would be a good candidate for soaking up excess electricity, look at capital cost per watt consumed:

For instance, if I have an efficient computer system that costs $100 for every watt consumed, it's not going to make sense to run it only during that 20% of the time there's excess electricity. The effective capital cost is then 5 times greater. I'd be better off investing in a battery and extra solar to allow it to run it 24/7.

But if, instead, I have something which has incredibly low capital costs, like 10 cents per Watt consumed, and which can tolerate being shutdown and restarted, then even though it might only be operating 20% of the time, the effective capital cost is still just 50 cents per Watt, even cheaper than a battery capital cost. So it makes economic sense to use that to soak up the extra electricity demand.

This is why the key for hydrogen electrolysis isn't so much efficiency but capital costs: a variable-renewables-heavy grid will have enormous amounts of excess electricity at times, but only for fairly brief periods. You can't economically "store" that electricity using hydrogen if your electrolysis capital costs are so high you need to run your electrolysis cell 24/7!

If you want to make the hydrogen economy a reality, FORGET about hydrogen cars. Focus on hydrogen electrolysis capital costs!!!

I suspect the best option is pumping sea water up the sides of a mountains in the south west for pumped storage. Except rather than then using it to run generators they use that same pressure to operate desalination plants 24/7.

Reverse osmosis uses (600–1200 psi) for seawater = 1400 to 2800 feet of elevation which is taller than what they have available, but sill very viable. Further, as reverse osmosis already needs to pump salt water to high pressure the only change is simply slightly larger pumps and a big pit plus some piping for massive amounts of energy storage.

Great point. They're not doing it to save the world or anything, they see dollar signs. As you said, they'll desalinate enormous amounts of water, and that is life.

While $200b is about $200b more than virtually all of us have, all the Crown Prince has to do is hold another Ritz Carlton party. This time they know he's serious so they'll pay in a few days.

Aluminum smelting.

Desalination is a good idea too, but instead of selling the water they could use it to grow forests and then sell carbon credits.

Aluminum smelting does NOT handle shutdowns very well, though. Aluminum smelting really needs a constant power source because shutdowns can actually damage the electrolysis pots.

The smelted aluminium goes to the market, recyclable aluminium from scrap is recovered and fed into grid scale aluminium air batteries (still in development) and you have got a closed loop of generation and storage.

Growing forests would be incredible, it’d be like rain forest eventually right? It would be very strange to see a substantially green country in the Middle East.

But to do that you need to increase the salinity of the nearby ocean for years.

How much of the increase in salinity stays? The ocean is huge and the water moves so I'm surprised that desalination has a large effect in that regard

I think “the Earth is huge” is one of those things that makes intuitive sense to us, but that fails to take in to account the scale with which we operate. A desalination plant must put a lot of excess salt into the ocean somewhere. Whenever you’re dumping high quantities of something into the ocean, there’s always going to be some effect. The question is just “how significant” is the effect. I assume the local animal population could perhaps be greatly affected. And depending on the region there could be effects on migrating populations as well. Everything we do has an impact.

I don't know. I live on the other side of the continent from California but sometimes I hear complaints about the ecological impact. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-201504... The oceans may be deep in the middle, but they are often shallow at the edges. And Saudia Arabia is bordered by two seas which have much less capacity to dilute salt than an open ocean.

But where will they train their Sardaukar?

Crypto mining?

More seriously, it will boots/create R&D for actual energy storage. Storing it in products might be nice early one, but having application neutral (renewable) energy available whenever for whatever we want seems like an unavoidable trend.

on good days they could pump water into silos

>Does anyone know of products that can be made quickly by the application of raw energy?


Potato chipsets?

I believe it won't be one organic unit of power at this scale. it will be sub-multiples, ganged up in ways which make it both more resilient, and more useful. It will almost certainly be distributed too, because thats how you make a power system resilient against local constraints. So, calling a 'power plant' instead of 'several discrete power plants' is probably headline-ese.

(the solar furnace pictures I've seen in other places tend to have more than one unit of target, and storage, and production)

I believe over-capacity is common in these kinds of things, to ensure a lower sub-multiple of the book power is available so this power budget could be written to lossy storage, or be a huge oversupply to sell at profit on the spot market with loss on transmission but have reserve powers to meet local demands. Or for things like desalination or industries which need high energy inputs. An Aluminium smelter in Australia is looking to use PV to drive some of its costs down. Thats a huge 24/7 power burden, but the thermal mass in the pot-line behind smelting can act as a power buffer, so it may be a dual use proposal in some ways: make power which has loss risks, find uses which can buffer them, have hysteresis, then sell what you can beyond the committed reserves you can store.

Saudi is diversifying away from an oil economy so its possible this is a sign of that, seeking cost and revenue outcomes which decouple the state budget and revenue streams from oil price shocks.

> Saudi is diversifying away from an oil economy so its possible this is a sign of that, seeking cost and revenue outcomes which decouple the state budget and revenue streams from oil price shocks.

They ultimately have no choice but to get very aggressive, very soon, if they want their nation to survive.

Their population has doubled since 1990 and tripled since 1982. They're adding about 800k-900k new people per year, which is a lot on their base (about double the rate of Australia, which is growing solidly from high immigration).

It's going to be essentially impossible to maintain their standard of living - which is comparable to the Czech Republic, upper mid tier - if they don't come up with a replacement for domestic oil consumption. Long before oil starts to decline globally, the Saudis will be destroying themselves economically through domestic population demands on their energy exports (that has already become a problem, not yet critical though).

This and nuclear tech, are the two ideal ways for them to ensure a maximum amount of oil is available for export in the coming decades.

To put 200 gigawatts into perspective, the largest US nuclear power plant generates 4 gigawatts. The US total generating capacity in the summer is 1000 gigawatts.

You cant compare nameplate capacity to actual energy production. You have to adjust the nameplate capacity by the capacity factor first.

It's almost certainly PV.. because the price -- $200B for 200GW -- matches perfectly the current price of a new utility scale PV plant ($1/Watt). Those plants have a capacity factor of 10-30%. It'll probably be close to the 30%. So that would reduce the 200GW to 60GW.

Not quite, the instantaneous energy output from the system will be at 200GW when the sunshine is at a maximum. The average output of the system would be 60GW (at a 30% capacity factor). In terms of total energy this would equate to around 525TWh worth (60 * 8760 / 1000). Or, 525,000,000 MWh.

That is, for every $1/MWh that the solar station gets paid for it's output it will receive half a billion dollars a year.

Now, a station of this size would massively depress power prices throughout the region unless there was some form of large scale storage unit which could soak it up.

Probably more impactful is the Saudis are currently using oil for their power stations which is heavily subsidized.

If you get 2000 kWh/yr per kWp from PV there and have an installation of 200 GWp you'll end up with 400 TWh per year. If we assume a 25 year lifetime for this installation that's 9600 TWh. At cost of 200 billion dollars, wouldn't a MWh from this system cost close to $21 instead of $1?

Or - taking your numbers - the installation would have to last 400 years without operational costs considered. Isn't that a loss for whoever invests in something like this?

$21/MWh is very cheap energy. Far cheaper than any modern nuclear plant, and significantly cheaper than most fossil-fuelled energy even before you account for carbon/pollution externalities.

is that 2.1 cents a kwh? Dirt cheap.

I've read that solar panels (I have one for hot water) might lose some efficacy over the decades but even those installed 40 years ago are still working. I guess at some point it will be cost effective to replace them...or if the math works out leave them working at, say, 60% efficiency, and build a new one. It's not like they're running out of sunny places over there.

...and you do the same other types of energy production. For nuclear/coal what is reported as nameplate is thermal energy produced which is different than maximum electric power generated.

That is not correct, typical nameplate capacity is for the electrical power. There's of course a less-than-one capacity factor due to plant uptime, but with nuclear it can be more than 0.9.

"Son" is mentioned twice in the article with no reference to who that is. Masayoshi Son is the man standing on the left in the photo. According to Wikipedia [1] he is founder and CEO of SoftBank.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masayoshi_Son

I knew about SoftBank but not its founder. He seems like the Japanese version of Buffett... I also somehow assumed that SoftBank was an older company.

Buffet buys companies with pricing power while Son does massive bets with debt. His major skill seems ability to convince banks to borrow him billions for increasingly larger leveraged buyouts.

Didn’t SoftBank just throw a ton of money at Uber?

He was the richest man on earth pre-dotcom bubble for 3 days.


The Wikipedia page has this interesting piece of trivia about him:

[H]e is the richest man in Japan, despite having the distinction of losing the most money in history (approximately $70bn during the dot com crash of 2000).

By a large margin over Masayoshi Son, the richest in Japan title now goes to Tadashi Yanai of Fast Retailing:


After that is Takemitsu Takizaki, of Keyence:


"Masayoshi Son’s $100 Billion Bet to Conquer the Future"

Bloomberg did a piece on him last year on the Decrypted podcast.


Interesting indeed. I wouldn’t say he’s like Buffet though. I think he’s more like Richard Branson.

Given the solar profile during the day, I’d suspect a large amount of desalination occurring at peak times. Saudi Arabia is worlds largest desalination user/generator.

Would be interesting to know what percentage of desalination costs comes down to energy, and what percentage to fixed costs for building and then maintaining the equipment.

This paper[0] has capex and opex costs for three types of desalination technology - multistage flashing (MSF), multi-effect distillation (MED) and reverse osmosis (RO). The lowest costs are for reverse osmosis and are $113 million capex, $19 million annual opex, for a 68000 cubic meters per day plant (which is apparently a defacto standard size) with an expected lifetime of 25 years.

[0] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313461134_Long-term...

Sounds like a good variable load which is "kinda like" storage

Of course solar does not work at night, still, even if it's only peak time abatement it works

Thermal solar does work at night.


I'm not sure how it compares nowadays with PV, there was an issue of roasting birds in flight as well, but I think it might be advantageous in some situations

The average cost of a solar power plant is $1 per watt. So this budget would build a 200 GW plant. It would satisfy 10% of the world's demand of electricity. This is huge!

Edit: taking into account the capacity factor it would really only represent 3%; still impressive though.

You didn't count in the capacity factor for solar.. which is only 10-30% (depending on the type of solar plant they build).

So best case, 200 GW will only produce 525 TWh annually. This is equivalent to a 66 GW nuclear plant (nuclear has a 90% capacity factor).

Out of 20000 TWh electricity produced globally, that's only 2.5%.

"So best case, 200 GW will only produce 525 TWh annually. This is equivalent to a 66 GW nuclear plant (nuclear has a 90% capacity factor)."

Sure. But these days, you'd be hard pressed to build 66 GW of nuclear for $200 billion. It's costing about US$30 billion for one 3.2GW nuclear plant currently under construction in the UK (Hinkley Point C). And it's probably a lot more than that by the time you account for eventual decommissioning costs and long term waste storage.

China can still build 66GW for $200 billion in nuclear. They're the only large economy still aggressively pursuing nuclear over the next decade.

They have 19 reactors under construction right now that will add 21GW +/-, and 50-60GW of additional nuclear energy planned for the very near-term. Their goal is to add roughly 100GW+ of new nuclear energy output in the next 12 years.

What kind of solar? If you are talking PV with storage, then id agree, but if its CSP with thermal storage (like molten salt) and if we use Gemasolar (19.9 MW)[0] as an example, their capacity factor is 63%, which is close to parity with geothermal but less than nuclear.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemasolar_Thermosolar_Plant

That plant burns natural gas at a night to heat up the molten salt. That's why the capacity factor is so high. (Saudi Arabia could do that.. they currently burn fossil fuels for electricity.)

But it was very expensive.. about $360M for 20MW (or $18B per GW). The price they give -- $200B for 200GW -- would rule out this type of plant.

It's almost certainly PV.. which is currently $1/Watt for new utility scale plants. The price matches perfectly.

Where are you getting your $1.2B? Closest thing I can find is 260M GBP[0], or about $364.0M at today's mid market fx rate or ~$728.0M at 2011 fx rates. However this was completed and running in 2011, and uses salts with a starting at about 200 deg C and capping out at 500 deg C (You can have molten salts staring around deg 50C today). I wonder what a project at this scale could achieve a decade later.

But yeah, seems more likely to be PV at this investment price (assuming this will be the total for the project, which I kind of doubt, but I dont know how much costs will inflate to), would be great to get more details about what they are proposing.

[0] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1393879/Gemas...

I rechecked, and you're right about the price. I must have been looking at a different plant.. not sure, I cant find the page again. I adjusted the numbers in my post. Thanks.

there's a dead comment from a new account that says this:

"1) regarding price, it's probably PV at those prices, as CSP today comes in at least 2x of PV installed capacity cost and that's taking a very aggressive estimation- although one could probably get CSP costs down to $1/watt with the design and procurement scale economies being talked about. 2) Regarding Venning's point about demand, even with significant amount of energy storage, this would create quite a bit more peak power on sunny days than their current grid demand can handle so announcement may be based on a couple (dodgy to me) assumptions: a) either they assume building it out in phases slowly over time to accompany some aggressive assumed demand growth or b) they are thinking about power exports in a region where Saudi Arabia probably doesn't have too many politically viable customers"

1) regarding price, it's probably PV at those prices, as CSP today comes in at least 2x of PV installed capacity cost and that's taking a very aggressive estimation- although one could probably get CSP costs down to $1/watt with the design and procurement scale economies being talked about. 2) Regarding Venning's point about demand, even with significant amount of energy storage, this would create quite a bit more peak power on sunny days than their current grid demand can handle so announcement may be based on a couple (dodgy to me) assumptions: a) either they assume building it out in phases slowly over time to accompany some aggressive assumed demand growth or b) they are thinking about power exports in a region where Saudi Arabia probably doesn't have too many politically viable customers

> It would satisfy 10% of the world's demand of electricity.

That doesn't sound right. According to the (better) article from Bloomberg [1], "Saudi Arabia’s electricity generation capacity ... stood at 77 gigawatts in 2016", which that article points out is a third of this new project's.

I don't work in electrical production, but I don't think this capacity will work for 10% of the world. Wikipedia [2] agrees with your assessment of ~2300GW for worldwide average production; but I think the problem is how an average production number is calculated as compared with quoted output numbers for a given installation.

EDIT: Hmm, if Saudi Arabia produces ~3.3% of the world's electricity currently, then maybe this does represent enough for a substantial percentage of the world's population, assuming the production and capacity numbers are comparable. (Deriving 3.3% from 77GW of 2311GW, which I recognize come from different years.) Anyone who knows more about this care to weigh in?

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-28/saudi-ara...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_generation#Product...

But can it power Bitcoin?

According to Wikipedia the worldwide consumption of electricity is about 21k Tera watt hours. That's 21,000,000 gw so it's .001% right? Also I think cost is now about a quarter per watt

A terawatt hour is a unit of energy. A terawatt, or a gigawatt, is a unit of power. To estimate how many TWh can be generated annually from 200 GW of solar capacity, we need two more numbers:

- The number of hours in a year.

- The percentage of nameplate capacity that the system can be expected to produce on average, e.g. the capacity factor.

There are 8760 hours in a year. A solar PV system in a sunny region may have an annualized capacity factor of 25%. (Installations in really sunny regions may achieve upward of 30%, and Saudi Arabia certainly has a lot of sun, but dust offsets some of the benefits of sunny deserts.)

200 * 8760 * 0.25 = 438000 gigawatt hours of electricity generated per year, e.g. 438 TWh, or about 2% of present annual global electricity generation of 21,000 TWh.

Watts measure power, Watt hours measure energy. A 200 GW power plant could output a maximum of ~1,700 TWh in a year which is about 8% of 21,000 TWh.

This has boondoggle written all over it; however, I'm glad ridiculously rich people are willing to waste their money on it - it should be a great learning experience for the engineers and other workers involved.

It's a likely boondoggle because solar is still a changing technology, committing to build something now risks being locked into technologies that may be woefully out of date by 2030.

Just imagine if someone tried this 12 years ago - the plant would be coming online today probably with technology that is a lot less efficient than it could have been had they waited.

Nonetheless, I have to say I am inspired by Softbank's and the MBS's vision, good for them.

I don’t think this is a “all in from the get go” like investment, where, once you started, you either run through your original plan or abandon it completely. If solar cells become more efficient during construction, they will be able to switch to using them for new construction (they probably won’t even have a choice, as they won’t be able to buy the old ones anymore)

Also, at that scale, they will be replacing stuff continuously even before they are finished building it.

Google and Amazon aren’t running outdated computers in their ten year old data centers, either.

On the other hand, you can wait like that for a very long time, and you have a problem to solve now.

I wonder if they will they be storing energy over night, or do they plan on using daytime generation to run energy intensive industrial plants such as aluminum smelters or fertiliser plants. Saudi is a major fertiliser manufacturer but fertiliser production consumes less than 2% of global energy production and this plant will produce far more power than that.

Saudi residential and commercial electricity use is dominated by air conditioning loads. That means really good correlation between solar pv output and load curves.

You can also time-shift cooling, especially if you use central chillers which distribute cold brine to heat exchanges in builders. Parts of Dubai use a system like that.

If they are thinking about starting to producing syngas they definitely have infrastructure place already.

That's what I was thinking also. Yes, desalination, but you can't sell your excess water for too much and how much can they possibly need?

I'd be very curious to see the math on this one, for desalination and gas processing.

Saudi Arabia is an interesting country in a world of very cheap solar energy. On the one hand the global shift in energy markets would undermine the basis of their prosperity and shift geopolitical power elsewhere. On the other hand, they have perfect conditions for solar generation themselves, very high levels of sunshine and huge amounts of land. Cheaper energy means reduced costs for all sorts of things which make living in such a hot place realistic or attractive. The land is also not far from the coast, and cheaper energy means more of that land could potentially be irrigated. You really wonder what would happen there if solar ends up undercutting oil many times over, it could be a collapse, or it could be a booming population living in high-tech cities, and the desert turned green.

Is a megaproject like this a good idea considering that there could (possibly) be innovations in the sector? What if scientists find a way to reduce the panel size by 30% in the future?

Should I buy a graphics card to play games now? What if Nvidia comes out with a better card in the future?

At some point you have to stop worrying about the future and recognize the benefits you can get today with the resources and technology you have avaliable to you.

Fair enough, but my worry is if a building a plant 100x the size of the existing largest is a rational investment, considering that the area is ripe for innovation. The analogous case would be building a supercomputer of that scale 10-20 years ago.

And yet people were building supercomputers 20 years ago. Engineering waits for none.

They were building the pyramids thousands of years back. And we continue to tall buildings even now.

Keep in mind this is a PR piece, a "memorandum of understanding." They haven't actually legally agreed on anything, nothing has been paid or spent, no final contract is in place.

Next after that, is that the construction will take place over decades. So it should reasonably be assumed they'll take advantage of some improvements along the way.

one should consider saudi arabia's case in particular: they are one of the few places that derives a tremendous amount of their electricity generation from the direct burning of crude oil (almost 1 million barrels per day).

each barrel that they don't burn is one they can sell instead, and this is a situation that makes economic sense for them now, regardless of future tech improvements.

This megaproject is going to be installed gradually through 2030.

Typically with solar panels you reduce the power output by 30% when you reduce the panel size by 30% ;)

You can still make this argument even after a breakthrough has just been made

That thing alone is going to produce ~1.5% of all electricity in the world (assuming ~23% capacity factor which is what i expect in Saudi Arabia), even accounting for growth of electricity consumption by the time it is built out.

What are they going to do with all that electricity, especially given it is intermittent?

To me, the project sounds like a PR BS because it is too expensive and i can't see a use for it.

You can create energy storage with excess energy. With energy of a large enough scale even electrolysis, as opposed to steam methane reforming, could be used to produce renewable clean energy in the form of hydrogen that could be used to create more stable power output.

Saudi Arabia and all nations that rely on oil exports certainly have to be seeing the future a bit differently than the rest of the world, and so you have to take this into account when considering their plans. It's probably not particularly controversial to say that oil won't be nearly as valuable in 50 years. But when your GDP is being sustained by oil, that means you're living on borrowed time - and when it comes to completely reshaping your national economy and international role, 50 years suddenly is not such a long time.

They can build more aluminium smelters there, that takes lots of energy and brings diversification. They already have some of that (using oil/gas).

Desalination was mentioned, and it could conceivably run during the sunlight hours only, storing water for the night.

I would imagine that they will build _some_ storage as well in the coming 12 years, or I will be very disappoint.

Desalination using reverse osmosis is just 6kwh/m3. It means 67 cubic km of water per year. Which is about as much water withdrawal as all of Russia. They can't possibly practically use that much water. It will be 10% of India's (world top), or 14% of U.S.' water use.

Does that include the energy used to pump the water after processing?

From what I understand the most energy-intensive part of desalination is pumping it to where people can actually use it.

They don't need to use it all for water. Electricity can be sold. Can also produce hydrogen and sell that.

Desalination would be one thing that could soak up a great deal of peak power and produce a valuable asset.

Mine bitcoin!

Any one have any related sources on the kind of tech involved? Will this be PV? CSP? Some combination of both?

Are solar thermal generators no longer competitive against photo voltaic solar panels?

the project will create 100,000 jobs

50 persons/MW or 20kW/person sound a bit high at that scale. Even considering the sandstorms in the region.

It's almost certainly a "job-year" [1] which is an economic construct representing the equivalent of one person being employed for one year. For example, a 6 month construction project with 2 guys still equals one job year.

Most PR-style announcements like this seems to simplify job-years to jobs.

There is also direct employment (# of people hired for the project itself, e.g. construction) vs indirect employment (# of people hired in supply chain) vs induced employment (# of people hired by associate economic impact, e.g. construction worker spends money earned on project in local community and supports retail) [2], all of which may be consolidated for a PR style announcement.

[1] http://prospect.org/article/what-heck-job-year [2] https://msu.edu/user/stynes/mirec/concepts.htm

In the end, half of everything you pay for anything is labor. 100B / 100,000 jobs = 1M / job. Sounds about right to me! Remember that they will need to manufacture the panels, transport the panels, prepare the sites, build the structures, maintain the system, build power lines, maintain power lines, sell the power ... that's a lot of jobs that have to be done!

Is something on that scale possible here in the US?

You could certainly fit that much solar in places in Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. I think the bigger issue would be getting the capital and permissions needed to build high voltage transmission lines to take that much power to where it is really needed throughout the country.

Could have made fusion

What will emerge from that ground when not cooked every day by 200GW? Maybe one could grow stuff

Very very little by way of information here. I suppose that given it's a memorandum of understanding (MOU) they're basically saying, "we'd like this to happen please".

I think the scale of the project implies that this is going to be the power source for Neom† ( http://www.discoverneom.com/ ), the new sci-fi city the Suadis are planning to build in the north-west of their country bordering Jordan and with Egypt across the water. See here‡ for an in-depth critique of that project. (Side note: is it just me or has Bloomberg's journalism gotten insanely impressive of late?)

From the official blurb, “As the sun rises over NEOM, it will glint against vast fields of solar panels paired with wind turbines and light up enormous stretches of energy grids storing power for generations.” I guess we could call this MOU, “Neom-Solar”, part of the energy solution for powering Neom and beyond.

One has to remember that the Saudi's sovereign wealth fund has something like $2T, that's T for trillion, so a joint $200B joint punt is well within their reach. And especially if they intend to diversify away from fossil fuels for power-gen and desalination.

I guess we should applaud them because if the effects of climate change are potentially as bad as scientists claim they are the world needs a number of mega-projects like this to push the carbon needle firmly in the other direction.

Note as well that since that Bloomberg article was written in October 2017 a number of the restrictions mentioned in the article as compared to Dubai have been lifted–notably women can drive from the summer onwards and do not have to wear an abaya in public so long as their dress is "decent and respectful"§. Perhaps more reforms are coming down the pipe? It's often been rumoured that the Saudi royalty and other wealthy individuals lead much more liberal lifestyles abroad (and even at home some say) than the laws of their own country would lead one to believe.

I believe it is true that historically the Saudi royalty built their strength by allying themselves with the fundamentalist Wahabi clerical sect. Perhaps the Kingdom realises that they may have to partly sabotage that relationship in order to make their country more attractive to outside investment and in order to compete with their more liberal next door neighbours. And perhaps it is the subjects themselves in the kingdom who are agitating for some reforms. Anyway, it'd be nice in the future not to have to listen to jibes about how draconian the kingdom is on the religious front whenever some article about their progress in other areas is published.

† discussion five months ago here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15543404


§ http://m.gulfnews.com/news/gulf/saudi-arabia/abaya-what-wome...

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