Irony rocks! Years ago, a coal mine in eastern China collapsed, leaving an enormous hole in the ground that subsequently filled with water. Known as the Three Gorges area, it is now the site of the world’s largest floating solar power plant. When completed in May of 2018, the $151 million installation will generate 150 megawatts of electrical power.
The new solar power plant will be operated by the Three Gorges Group, an instrument of the Chinese government. Its chairman, Lu Chun, says floating solar is an opportunity to drive down the cost of solar power. Instead of installing permanent racking systems that have to mounted in the ground, the solar panels for this latest project will be attached to floats, a process that is faster, simpler, and cheaper.
The Three Gorges Group announced on December 10th that the first phase of the enormous project has now been completed and connected to the local electrical grid. The solar power will also be used to invigorate commercial fishing in the local area, bringing more economic benefits to the area.
Up to this point, the largest floating solar installation in China was a 40 megawatt facility constructed in the same province by Sungrow Power Supply, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Floating solar is enjoying a surge in interest in China, as solar power farms in remote areas like the Gobi Desert suffer because they cannot send all their available power to market due to restrictions in the electrical grid. Nearly 6% of solar power generated within China was not put to productive use in the first three quarters of this year due to grid congestion, according to China’s National Energy Administration.
Solar panels and water enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The panels help to conserve precious freshwater supplies by lowering the amount of evaporation into the surrounding atmosphere. In return, the water keeps ambient temperatures around the solar panels lower, which helps boost their efficiency and limit long-term heat-induced degradation.
While the US dithers with schemes to prop up coal and nuclear power with taxpayer money, China is out front, leading the way to a zero emissions future. Only one approach will be successful in the long term.