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Saudi Arabia to House World’s Largest Solar Project

Renewable Energy

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Saudi Arabia is the second largest oil producer in the world. It produces 13 percent of the world's oil and gets 60 percent of its own electric energy from petroleum.

But the desert nation, whose Paris agreement action plan was rated as "critically-insufficient" by Climate Action Tracker in November 2017, is about to go from zero to hero on the green scale.


On Tuesday, it announced that it would partner with Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank to build the world's largest solar power project, Bloomberg reported.

Except that "world's largest" doesn't quite cover of size of the project's ambitions.

According to Bloomberg, the project, which will be built in the Saudi desert, is projected to generate 100,000 jobs and produce 200 gigawatts of power by 2030, 100 times the next biggest planned project, the Solar Choice Bulli Creek PV Plant in Australia, which only aims to produce two.

"It's a huge step in human history," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg. "It's bold, risky and we hope we succeed doing that."

Solar power is a logical choice for Saudi Arabia. It's capital, Riyadh, averages 8.9 hours of sunshine a day, and the country is also projected to be severely impacted if climate change raises global temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial levels. According to Climate Action Tracker, if global temperatures rise to three or four degrees Celsius, 75 percent of the country would be excessively arid by the end of the century.

"The kingdom has great sunshine, great size of available land and great engineers, great labor, but most importantly, the best and greatest vision," SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son said of the new project, as reported by Bloomberg.

To provide more context for the scope of that vision, Fortune pointed out that the total capacity of all existing solar installations is around 400 gigawatts, which is only double what the Saudi/SoftBank project plans to produce on its own. China's Tengger Desert Solar Park, the largest installation currently in operation, generates a little more than 1.5 gigawatts. Since the Saudi project estimates an output of 7.2 gigawatts by 2019, it will more than quadruple the output of the current leader in just one year.

The project is projected to cost $200 billion overall. Saudi Arabia will have to import panels at first, and it will also need to build up the battery capacity to store the solar energy. The first phase will cost $5 billion, $1 billion of which will come from the Vision Fund, which Saudi Arabia and SoftBank are joint investors in.

Son told Fortune he thought the investment would be worth it.

"The project will fund its own expansion," he said.

The Saudi government's bold investment in solar power humbles the U.S., which, according to EIA data, is the country currently leading it as no. 1 oil producer.

However, instead of encouraging the solar industry in order to reduce production of fossil fuels, the Trump administration has given it the jitters by announcing a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels this January.

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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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