Just as the United States was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement last week, China was flicking the switch on the world’s largest floating solar energy plant, cementing its status as the top producer of solar energy on planet Earth.
Located in China’s eastern Anhui province in the coal city of Huainan, the plant has a capacity of 40 megawatts of energy — enough to power over 15,000 homes, according to Sungrow Power Supply, the company that set up the facility.
Despite China’s reputation for heavily polluted skies and thick clouds of smog, the country has been investing more and more into clean, renewable energy. Over the past few years, Chinese companies have built up wind, hydro and solar plants around the country, but the floating Huainan plant takes China’s commitment to cleaning up the environment to a whole new level.
At the end of last year, China produced 77.42 gigawatts of solar energy, more than any other country in the world and double what it produced in 2015. According to the National Energy Administration, 11% of China’s energy use is renewable. By 2030, China hopes to get that number at least up to 20% as one of its goals in the Paris accord.
Floating solar panel technology has been around for just over a decade, according to the World Economic Forum, and improves upon traditional solar farms. The water cools down the solar panels, making them run more efficiently, while the panels themselves don’t take up valuable space on land.
In fact, in a fitting twist of fate, the Huainan solar farm itself floats above a flooded area which was once used for mining coal.
China isn’t the first to construct such a facility, but the size of the Huainan plant surpasses all of its predecessors.
Early last year, the biggest floating solar farm was located outside of London and only produced around 6 megawatts, according to the South China Morning Post.
Sungrow didn’t release the exact size of the new plant, but it is estimated to have doubled that of the previous record holder, which Xinyi Solar built last year in Huainan.
As the world’s largest energy consumer, running mostly on coal, China often struggles to keep pollution levels at bay, but the country is now beginning to do an admirable job of taking responsibility for its vast environmental footprint. The Huainan plant is one of many new sustainability projects in store for the coming years.
SCMP notes that earlier this year a massive (land-bound) solar farm was completed in Qinghai which takes up 27 square kilometers, capable of powering up to 200,000 homes. Meanwhile in Ningxia, a 6-million panel solar farm is under construction which promises to be the world’s largest when completed.
Looks like America and the rest of the world have some catching up to do.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via Inhabitat]
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