China’s First Desert Solar and Wind Project Is Online

May 19, 2023 by Shannon Flynn

China excels at building infrastructure quickly, and its most recent project could help it reach its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2060.

Ample sunlight blankets China’s northernmost regions. Coupled with vast deserts, it’s the perfect location for one of the world’s largest wind and solar plants. 

China’s desert regions are ideal for solar and wind power

China’s desert regions are ideal for solar and wind power. Image used courtesy of Pixabay

China has been constructing large-scale solar and wind power plants in its desert regions since 2021. In a race to be a renewable energy leader – and clear its reputation as the world’s biggest carbon polluter – the country plans to install 100 gigawatts of solar and wind energy in deserts spanning 19 provinces. 


China’s Renewable Energy Boom

China currently accounts for 31% of global carbon dioxide emissions, but government leaders are taking drastic measures to reduce the country’s fossil fuel use. Already boasting a combined capacity of 100 million kilowatts in wind and solar power, China is preparing for a second round of renewable energy projects, some of which have just come online.

The rapid growth of industrial sectors has made China one of the most energy-hungry countries in the world. Energy supply shortages in 2005 affected several companies’ operations, and China has been ambitiously pouring time, labor, and money into reviving its energy sector ever since. 


The New Wind and Solar Project

In Kubuqi, China’s seventh-largest desert, builders are hard at work constructing a massive array of wind and solar power plants in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – and could be one of the largest renewable energy plants in the world. The first phase of the 1 million kilowatt photovoltaic power project will soon come online. 

The sprawling plant also stretches throughout China’s desert belt, including the Tengger Desert and the eastern part of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The desert belt winds through Ningxia, Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The once-desolate area is now becoming a renewable energy hotbed. 

The Tengger Desert project has already started generating electricity and will be able to supply power to 1.5 million households.

Inner Mongolia Energy Group and China Three Gorges Corporation are working together on the project, which has a 16-million-kilowatt total installed capacity. It rivals China’s Baihetan Dam, the world’s second-largest hydropower station, in terms of energy generation. 

China’s Tibet Autonomous Region has the most solar energy resources, with Inner Mongolia a close second. Inner Mongolia’s solar potential has driven a stunning energy revolution. Major solar panel manufacturing companies, including Tongwei Co., Ltd., GCL Technology Holdings Limited, LONGi Green Energy Technology Co., Ltd., Risen Energy Co., Ltd., and TCL Zhonghuan Renewable Energy Technology Co., Ltd., have expressed interest in the region. 

Inner Mongolia Tiansheng New Technology Co., Ltd. has built an automated photovoltaic module production line to supply China’s desert solar projects. It can produce over 2,100 modules daily, equating to three every minute. 

China’s desert is ideal for solar projects

China’s desert is ideal for solar projects. Image used courtesy of Pixabay


Transporting Energy

Ultra-high-voltage (UHV) direct-current power lines carry electricity from the desert power plant to the heavily populated Hunan Province. These transmission lines are much more efficient than conventional AC power cables, which would lose a lot of energy on their long journey. 

China is one of the few countries operating ultra-high-voltage power lines. They must transport electricity from power plants in sparsely populated regions over vast distances to supply homes and businesses. 

The UHV grid allows industrial and residential areas to stay separate from each other, reducing pollution in urban centers. This large network of UHV lines is part of China’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint and integrate renewable energy into everyday operations. A lack of transmission cables has previously bottlenecked the wind and solar industry and prevented it from becoming mainstream. 


China’s Climate Goals

China signed the UN Paris Agreement in April 2016. In 2021, it submitted an updated 2030 climate pledge to the United Nations, confirming the country's commitment to curtail its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 at the latest. Then, the country will implement measures to reach net-zero emissions by 2060. 

The pledge promises that China will increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy in its primary energy consumption to around 25% by 2030. China currently relies on coal-fired power generation for around 60% of its electricity. Additionally, the country will install over 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar power, with its new project contributing 100 gigawatts to the total. 


An Ambitious Plan

Whether China is on track to meet its 2030 and 2060 energy targets is yet to be determined. However, it is taking the first steps toward reaching these impressive goals. China’s new solar and wind desert project will greatly reduce the country’s emissions and supply power to millions of households. At the very least, it’s an impressive start.