How China is developing solar energy to turn the Kubuqi desert into an oasis?

Aerial view of the horse-shaped solar power plant in the Kubuqi Desert in Ordos, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Photo: Courtesy of State Power Investment Corporation Nei Mongol Energy Co

Walking around the Junma Solar Power Plant located in the Kubuqi Desert in Ordos, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (north China), it is hard for visitors to imagine that the area, now covered with solar panels blue and green vegetation, was once totally arid and called the “sea of ​​death”.

Occupying an area of ​​about 1.4 million square meters and composed of more than 196,000 photovoltaic panels to form the pattern of a galloping horse, the station is not only the largest desert photovoltaic station in China, but is also the largest solar panel image in the world. and owner of a Guinness World Record.

This is also where its name comes from, as Junma literally means horse in Chinese.

So far, the project has generated more than 2.312 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of green electricity, which is equivalent to saving 760,000 tonnes of standard coal and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.85 million tonnes , State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) Nei Mongol Energy Co, the contractor for the project, told the Global Times on Saturday.

While developing and utilizing solar energy resources, the project is also used to promote ecological governance of the desert. To date, a total of 16,000 mu of desert has been transformed, according to the company.

The solar farm, which has been in operation for more than three years and is in the process of being expanded, indeed represents the latest practice in how China has successfully promoted its clean energy push in the sandiest and country’s rocky mountains, and while using renewable energies to combat desertification and reduce poverty.

‘Horse’ in the desert

The Junma station is part of the Dalad Photovoltaic Power Base in the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest desert in China, which was approved by the National Energy Administration in November 2017.

The construction comes as China – already a world leader in innovation and renewable energy generation – has ambitiously expanded its solar and wind power projects across the country to meet clean climate targets in the country. recent years.

“Building a photovoltaic power station in the desert is not easy, and the requirements for solar equipment are higher due to the windy and sandy environment of the desert,” said Miao Ruijun, deputy manager of Mengxi New Photovoltaic Power Station. Energy Dalad at SPIC Nei Mongol Energy. Co, told the Global Times on the site on Saturday.

Miao noted that to better manage the operation of the station in the desert environment and save the necessary personnel on site, it adopted smart PV solutions provided by Huawei Technologies, including solar inverters, communication with the carrier of energy (PLC), an intelligent IV diagnosis, as well as a photovoltaic management system.

“With a simple one-click scan in the main control room, we can detect different problems within half an hour and accurately monitor every part of the module,” said Li Shuaikun, a station security technician and staff member. of SPIC Nei Mongol Energy Co., told the Global Times on Saturday, noting that with only two employees working in the main control room, they can monitor the status of all equipment at the Junma station, saving dramatically in staff and improve efficiency.

Li said that currently, the electricity generated by the solar power plant mainly meets the electricity demand of the nearby industrial park, greatly reducing the generation needed for coal-fired power plants.

Graphic: Tang Tengfei/GT

Graphic: Tang Tengfei/GT

Ecological scale

Besides bringing green energy to local people and industries, the solar power plant also works to control desertification and create income for local residents as they can grow plants and graze among and under the solar panels.

Improved soil and environmental conditions also allow more diverse industries to survive, such as organic farming and desert tourism.

“Now we have planted economic forests such as Amorpha and Astragalus between the photovoltaic panels, and planted sand shrubs and grasses under the photovoltaic panels to realize the wind and sand fixation and ecological restoration,” Zhang Lihua, general manager of Mengxi New Energy at SPIC Nei Mongol Energy Co, told the Global Times.

“The photovoltaic panels can not only generate electricity, but also block the wind and improve the living environment of plants under the expanding solar panels,” Zhang said.

In order to promote the upgrading and development of the base, the municipality also uses water drained from the nearby coal mine as a source of water. Through the water quality improvement project, water drained from the coal mine is converted to industrial water at the base.

Looking ahead, the local authorities said they aim to combine the resources of the photovoltaic industry, desert organic farming, desert tourism as well as rural revitalization, to develop “the desert economy” and further improve local livelihoods.

The success of this project, which explains how a huge solar farm has combined energy production with land restoration, also offers valuable experience for both China and the world, raising hopes that governments will use the clean and renewable energy to revitalize the most “deadly”. deserts into oases, according to industry observers.

The world’s second-largest economy is also on a fast track to expanding the experiment to uplift more outlying and relatively poor parts of the country.

China plans to build 450 gigawatts of solar and wind power generation capacity on the Gobi and other desert regions, the state planner announced in March. By the end of 2021, China had installed 306 gigawatts of solar power capacity and 328 gigawatts of wind turbines, and construction of about 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity is already underway in desert regions.

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