China’s world-beating solar farm is almost as big as Macau, Nasa satellite images reveal

US space agency Nasa has released remarkable images of a growing landscape of clean energy generation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 3:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 8:40pm

The US space agency Nasa has released spectacular satellite images of the world’s biggest solar farm, which sits on the Tibetan Plateau in China.

The images published last week show how the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in northwestern Qinghai province grew from a small cluster of panels to become a sprawling farm with 4 million solar panels in just four years.

The images of the 27 square kilometre solar farm – the world’s largest – were captured by Nasa’s Landsat 8 satellite in April 2013 and last month.

The farm is almost the size of Macau, which is about 30 sq km, and can generate 850 megawatts of clean energy, enough to supply power to 200,000 households.

On social media, where Nasa’s images were shared widely, internet users expressed awe at the massive display.

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One Facebook user wrote: “That’s amazing! I’m glad to see that China is using this kind of technology.”

On Twitter, another user suggested: “China should consider engineering space-based solar power stations.”

Another Twitter user shared an image of the solar farm taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite.

Both Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is China’s latest in a long line of large-scale solar energy projects.

A solar farm in the city of Cixi in eastern Zhejiang province made the news recently for installing 300 hectares of solar panels above a fish farm.

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The farm is expected to generate 220 gigawatt hours of electricity a year – enough power for 100,000 households – according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Last September, Bloomberg reported that a 2GW capacity solar farm with 6 million solar panels was being built in the Ningxia autonomous region, which would make it the the world’s largest solar plant.

China is the world’s largest solar power producer by capacity, with total installed capacity of 77.4GW at the end of 2016, the National Energy Administration said this month.

Yang Hongxing, a renewable energy professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said China had become a world leader in solar energy in the last two years as the central government intensified new energy development to resolve its pollution woes.

“China is likely to stay a leader in this area for the next few years or for an even longer,” Yang said.

“The low cost of building photovoltaic modules (solar panels) in China is the country’s main advantage. Many modules in the US and Europe are made in China.”

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The government was also encouraging the private sector to invest in renewable energy by subsidising clean power generation, the professor said.

China’s main challenge, however, was in transmitting the solar power farmed from sparsely populated northwestern regions like Qinghai and Ningxia to the coastal cities, Yang said.

The country lacked the infrastructure to efficiently transmit power across regions, he said.

“Some of these solar energy plants have to shut [for some time each year] because there is no use for such energy in those regions,” he said.

Solar plants generated 66.2GW of China’s electricity last year, accounting for 1 per cent of the country’s total power generated, according to the National Energy Administration’s statistics.

The country aims to boost the proportion of electricity generated from non-fossil fuel sources to 20 per cent by 2030 from 11 per cent today. It also plans to plough 2.5 trillion yuan (HK$2.82 trillion) into renewable power generation by 2020.