Solar at scale in China
Chinese investment in renewable energy technology continues to run far in excess of other nations. R&D spending alone in 2016 is estimated at $1.9bn, and solar PV deployment is set to exceed 100GW by 2018. By comparison, as of January 2017, deployment in the UK stood at 12.3GW.
China's ambition to be the dominant force in renewable power is well demonstrated by their latest achievement, a 40MW floating solar PV array in Huainan, in the Anhui province. Floating PV arrays have a variety of advantages including the cooling effects of the water under panels increasing efficiency, reduction in evaporation of water supplies and reducing the use of land which can instead be used for agriculture. Previously, the largest floating solar PV array in the world was a 6.3MW array in the UK.
This is not the first record solar installation in China – the country currently has the largest and second largest PV sites in the world: the 1.5GW 'Tengger Desert Solar Park' and the 1GW 'Datong Solar Power Top Runner Base' (which is due to expand in two more phases of development to 3GW). Also noteworthy is the Datong Panda Power Plant – a 250 acre site shaped like a panda – which has been designed to help raise awareness and interest in renewable energy amongst China's youth.
China is particularly challenged by pollution from fossil fuel consumption, as well as increasing demands for energy. Ambitious renewable energy deployment plans stretching to 2020 and beyond, coupled with decommissioning of coal stations are a good start to turning the country's relationship with fossil fuels around.
Commitment by the Chinese government to this course of action is welcome in the global fight against climate change, and much needed at a time when the USA has taken a step away from international climate change agreements - although, as the US has pointed out, even on current plans China is expecting to continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions until 2030.
Perhaps the developments being made in China will assist the development and deployment of green technologies here in the UK. Whilst the scale of a 1GW+ PV site may not be replicable on the British Isles, a 250 acre PV Friesian might inspire the next generation to push forward to a fossil-free future.