In today’s “Mega China” I traveled to the largest solar park in the world. And it is located in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Electricity generation in China has almost doubled in the last ten years. Coal firepower still remains the main source of energy. But green energy has gradually replaced China’s reliance on coal. Located on the Dalad Banner in Inner Mongolia, the Lead from the Front solar farm is located in the Kubuqi Desert – the seventh largest in the country.
Solar panels exist just like sunflowers! They follow the sun – tilt and pan – and move with the sun.
It was the first time I visited a solar park in a desert. I’ve been baked and roasted but that’s part of the charm I guess.
There I met Yu Haowei. Yu is deputy chief of New Energy and Atmospheric Environmental Protection Department at China Construction Eco-Environmental Protection Technology Company.
He told me that when they built the solar farm, the first thing they did was level the ground and the slope shouldn’t be more than 15 degrees.
“Another thing is that when we installed the foundation for the solar panels, we noticed that the sand is relatively fine. So when we dug holes for the foundation, it collapsed slightly downwards. And this is because the depth of the holes did not meet the requirements. Then we realized that we can inject water into the hole to fix the sand effectively,” Yu continued explaining how they installed the solar panels on sand.
The solar park project at Dalad Banner is the world’s largest solar park in a desert.
And the Kubuqi Desert has over 3,000 hours of annual sunshine – twice more than Chinese coastal cities and three times more than the country’s southwest.
When sunlight hits a solar panel, the energy is absorbed by solar cells. The process creates electrical charges. Scientists believe that an hour and a half of sunlight on the Earth’s surface can power humanity for a whole year. However, the conversion is limited. Harvesting more energy from the sun and converting it into electricity is key.
Solar trackers installed on the farm help keep the solar panels in a position where they always face the sun, increasing solar cell efficiency to over 20 percent — up 10 percentage points from a decade ago .
The electricity generated here is then transmitted to China’s national high-voltage grid and illuminates rooms throughout China – including the capital Beijing, 650 kilometers away.
In addition to generating clean energy, the solar farm also plays an important role in combating desertification.
“We use the solar panels to generate electricity, and under them we grow crops to control desertification.” As Fan Baoquan explained to me.
Fan operates part of the farm developed by China General Nuclear – a world leader in renewable energy.
“It’s a long-term plan. It was a plan jointly developed by Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, local government and our company. The overall plan is to plant some medicinal herbs, jujubes and some other relatively high-protein crops suitable for local growth, such as forage crops,” Fan added.
The construction of this solar park started in 2018 and since then over 3 million solar panels have been installed, with future expansion plans to reach an annual electricity production of 4 billion kilowatt hours – that will easily meet the needs of about 2 million homes per year.
China is already the largest producer of solar energy in the world and also the largest center for manufacturing solar panels. Meanwhile, clean energy is responsible for more than 60 percent of China’s increase in energy consumption.
The transitions are being made to meet the country’s goal of peaking in carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, an ambitious move by China to continue on its green path.