Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the International Development Journal, an online journal offering a platform to engage in debate and discussions on global policies and current affairs.
In June 2017, the world’s largest floating solar farm officially came online near the city of Huainan in China. According to EcoWatch, this happened “around the same time President Donald Trump announced the U.S is pulling out of the landmark Paris climate agreement.”
The floating solar park has the capacity to generate 40 megawatts of electricity to the Huainan electricity grid which is enough to power around 15,000 homes. The farm features a central inverter, transformer and switchgear contained within the plant’s 20-foot containerised design. All these components are supported by a combiner box as well as customised floating parts which enables it to successfully work in an environment where there are high levels of humidity and salt water spray.
Renxian Cao, the President of Sungrow, the firm responsible for constructing the floating solar park, claims “introducing cutting-edge technologies is what we are always committed to. We continue to offer better products and solutions to customers all over the world.”
The plant is symbolic for the city of Huainan and the Anhui province in which it is located. The lake on which the plant floats, which ranges from 4 to 10 metres in depth, is the site of abandoned coal mines. EcoWatch, reports a local Chinese government official, as saying “The plant not only makes full use of this area, reducing the demand for lands, but also improves generation due to the cooling effects of the surface.”
There are a number of environmental and health benefits that can accrue from installing solar panels on top of water bodies. Compared to solar panels mounted on the side or top of a building, floating panels are automatically cooled down by the water they sit on. This helps boost the efficiency levels of the plant’s power production capacity.
Another significant benefit is that the plant will generate environmentally-friendly, renewable energy and will continue to reduce China’s reliance on fossil fuels. Had the coal mine still been in operation it would have contributed to China’s greenhouse gas emissions – China is already the world’s largest polluter. The New York Times reports “China’s devastating pollution problems began here, in coal country, where legions of workers toiled and often died to exhume the rich deposits that fuelled the country’s sooty rise to economic power.”
Furthermore, the floating plant and the lake on which it sits are helping to restore the environmental damage caused by mining for coal as it now supports the emergence of a marine ecosystem. For example, the floating panels provide shade to the water, which in turn helps limit the growth of algae. This, in turn, allows other marine life to prosper in their environment and reproduce more often.
The solar farm is unlikely to hold the title of “world’s largest” for long. Other countries have also taken an interest in the Huainan project. The New York Times states that “The project reflects China’s effort to reshape the world order in renewable energy as the United States retreats. Such technological expertise will form the infrastructure backbone needed for countries to meet their climate goals, making China the energy partner of choice for many nations.”
China itself also continues to press ahead with other green energy developments and will most likely construct other floating solar farms. The New York Times reports that the Anhui provincial government already “Wants to expand the effort to more than a dozen sites, which collectively would produce the same amount of a power as a full-size commercial nuclear reactor.” The plant’s manufacturer is in the process of licencing the technology so that it can be sold overseas while delegations from Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and elsewhere have already conducted study trips to the floating plant.
The project is yet another example that showcases China’s commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, overcoming climate change and positioning itself as a renewable energy world leader. Although its chronic pollution issues, and the environmental and health concerns that arise from that, point to the drastic need for China to take action, now that it has, it is fully embracing green technologies and solutions and rapidly implementing them.
Cover Image: Pete Jelliffe/Flickr