WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Solar power is on an unstoppable roll and with companies bringing new capacity online every minute of every day the future of the technology looks bright
Late last week, workers switched on a solar energy plant that’s capable of producing 40 megawatts of power that floats on a manmade lake in China’s Anhui province near the city of Huainan, and the array is the largest floating solar project in the world, but, at the brisk pace that China is building new renewable projects it’s unlikely to hold that title very long.
Built by Sungrow Power Supply, the power plant will produce enough energy to power 15,000 homes, and while the company hasn’t revealed the exact size of the plant, it produces at least twice as much energy as the previous record holder which is also based in the same area and that was built by rival Xinyi Solar in 2016.
Anhui province used to be best known for its coal mining and the new plant has been built on an artificial lake, a ‘remenant’ of the olden days, that’s between twelve and thirty feet deep, which was left behind after the mining operations ceased seven years ago.
While the choice to build the new solar power plant on a lake, rather than in a field, or a stretch of deserted land might sound strange it makes sense for a couple of reasons – firstly the lake isn’t ecologically sensitive, and secondly it helps provide the area with clean, renewable power without having to repurpose huge tracts of farmland. And there are other benefits too – the water also cools the electronics in the solar panels helping them to work more efficiently and boosting their output. This is one of the reasons why the UK has been ‘floating,’ if you’ll excuse the pun, the same idea after they built a 23,000 panel floating solar farm on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near Heathrow airport in 2016 to help power the nearby Thames Water treatment plant.
The Sungrow solar farm though is just one tiny piece in China’s push towards a future centred around renewable energy, which already accounts for 11 percent of their energy production, rising to 20 percent by 2030, and it’s something that they’ve been waving in the American’s faces after President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. And, as if all of this wasn’t enough they’ve also recently announced that they’re going to plough another $361 billion into renewable power generation by 2020, and that by 2022 they plan on producing a staggering 320 gigawatts of wind and solar power and 340 gigawatts of hydropower.
However, while the new floating solar plant is the largest in the world it pales in comparison to some of China’s larger land based solar projects such as the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park on the Tibetan plateau, which is made up of 4 million solar panels that produces 850 megawatts of energy, and even that will soon be eclipsed by a project in the Ningxia Autonomous Region, which will have 6 million solar panels and produce 2 gigawatts of power.
As solar prices around the world continue to plummet, with solar now being the cheapest form of energy in over 58 countries – and that’s before we include new breakthroughs such as improved efficiency, or solar panels that can produce energy from rain, it seems undeniable that we are entering a new era of renewables. And with billionaire polymaths such as Elon Musk backing the tech with Tesla and SolarCity it’s hard to see how anyone, even the President of the United States is going to turn back the tide and make fossil fuels great again.