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China has the world’s largest floating solar farm, but it’s struggling to power a city

The world’s largest solar farm, located in China, has been connected to the grid and is now producing renewable energy.

In a press release, Chinese company Sungrow announced that the vast array of floating photovoltaic (PV) panels has been successfully connected to the grid in Huainan, China.

The appeal of floating solar farms is that they don’t take up land space and can use seawater as a natural coolant. But before we get too excited, while this may be the world’s largest, its power output is relatively low. Now switched on, it is capable of producing just 40 megawatts of power.

For comparison, the facility currently being built in South Australia will produce 330 megawatts when completed.

Just as countries compete for things like “world’s tallest building”, it seems like “world’s biggest solar farm” is the latest obsession. At least this competition might save the world, right?

India is reportedly building “the world’s biggest” solar plant power too, and when it’s finished it will cover an area of 10 square kilometres and produce a whopping 648 megawatts.

In comparison, the 40 megawatts being produced in the “largest” farm in the world is – sorry to say – kind of measly.

But how much is a megawatt anyway?

There is actually some discussion about how many homes a megawatt can power. The typical number you might see getting thrown around is 1000 homes, but according to calculations made by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), 1 megawatt is only enough to power 164 American homes on average.

Boise Weekly, an Idaho-based news site, put the same question to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The answer they received was 650 homes, so let’s take the median of the two and say, for argument’s sake, that it’s around 400.

OK, so the new farm in China is connected and producing enough energy to power around 16,000 homes (on a good day). That’s awesome, but the population of Hainan is over 2 million so it’s only really putting a small dent in the grid.

But this is not to take anything away from China’s achievements in the field of clean energy.

China is now the world’s top clean energy investor and it has bold plans to continue on this path. In early 2017, the Chinese government announced that it planned to spend more than $USD360 billion on renewable energy by 2020. It is hoped that this spending will result in some of that toxic fog leaving China’s capital and greatly reduce the effects of global warming.

There is some monetary motivation in China’s actions. Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University’s GW Solar Institute, told The Guardian more about the economics behind China’s plans.

“Most of the things that China is doing related to the environment are generally things that China … wants to do for the economy as well,” he said, adding that China sees a “huge investment opportunity” in exporting renewable technology to developing nations.

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason”, wrote T.S. Eliot in his play Murder in the Cathedral.

However, in this case, we can disagree. It doesn’t matter if countries are building solar farms because they want to be “the biggest” or if China is going green for the dollars. The important thing is that we, as a planet, move away from fossil fuels and toward a future that uses renewable energy.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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