In Silicon Valley, creating a thin-film solar startup requires a thorough business plan, years of testing and countless meetings to raise a few million dollars for your venture. But if you’re the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi it just takes a couple billion and you can buy outright everything you need to make your own thin-film solar company. The Masdar Initiative, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy program, has announced it will be investing $2 billion to create Masdar PV, a thin-film solar manufacturing company. The first step will include the purchase of two turn-key solar module fabrication lines from Applied Materials for $600 million.
This method of throwing money at problems has worked pretty well for the uber-wealthy country when it comes to cleantech. Abu Dhabi has been aggressively investing in things other than petrochemicals in an effort to prepare itself for a post-oil world. The creation of Masdar PV, in what Abu Dhabi is calling the biggest investment in solar ever, is part of a plan to eventually make the country a net exporter of PV cells. The goal is to hit a production capacity of 1 GW annually by 2014.
This is not the first billion-dollar play Masdar has made in solar. Masdar and Spanish engineering group Sener created a $1.24 billion joint venture earlier this year to create utility-scale solar thermal power plants.
This places Abu Dhabi’s deep pockets against Silicon Valley venture dollars, which, when it comes to individual investments, just don’t stack up. However, Abu Dhabi still lacks the research and development infrastructure and human talent to fuel its own cleantech industry. While they establish their Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to fix this they will have to continue to pay top dollar to western firms for precious cleantech IP. But don’t count on it staying that way for too long.