Dhahran:, Saudi Arabia — Life in Saudi Arabia has long been defined by the oil that flows from the kingdom. Over decades, the vast wealth it pumped out paid not just for gleaming towers and shopping malls but also for a government sector that employs a majority of working Saudis.
Now, Saudi Arabia is trying to tie its future to another natural resource it has in abundance: sunlight.
The world’s largest oil exporter is embarking, under Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on an ambitious effort to diversify its economy and reinvigorate growth, in part by plowing money into renewable energy. The Saudi government wants not just to reshape its energy mix at home but also to emerge as a global force in clean power.
Reaching that goal is a big if. But the strategy is finally making progress after fits and starts.
Riyadh on Monday tapped ACWA Power, a Saudi energy company, to build a solar farm that would generate enough electricity to power up to 200,000 homes. The project will cost $300 million and create hundreds of jobs, according to Turki al-Shehri, head of the kingdom’s renewable energy program.
By the end of the year, Saudi Arabia aims to invest up to $7 billion to develop seven new solar plants and a big wind farm. The country hopes that renewables, which now represent a negligible amount of the energy it uses, will be able to provide as much as 10 percent of its power generation by the end of 2023.
“All the big developers are watching Saudi,” said Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a market research firm.