China is building a massive solar plant in the Gobi desert

Energy Shocks
Energy Shocks

This post has been corrected.

Plans are underway for China’s first large-scale commercial solar plant, designed to eventually supply electricity for approximately one million households in Qinghai province. It’s a concentrating solar power (CSP) system, which uses a vast array of mirrors spread across 2,550 hectares (6,300 acres) in the Gobi desert to send thermal energy into a small, focused area.

The plant is being jointly developed by BrightSource Energy, based in Oakland, California, and Shanghai Electric Group. The project’s first phase, involving two 135 megawatt solar towers—enough energy for about half a million homes, according to BrightSource (pdf). There will eventually be six towers.

BrightSource is also a partner in the world’s largest CSP plant, in California’s Mojave desert, which can generate up to 392 megawatts.

NASA recently published satellite images showing the growth of China’s solar construction in the Gobi:

Solar farms in China in May 2015. (NASA)
The state of solar construction in the same area in 2012. (NASA)

China added 5 gigawatts of solar power to its grids in the first quarter of 2015 alone, and hopes to have connected a total of 17.8 gigawatts by the end of the year. That would be more than twice as much as the US added to its grid in 2014. Policymakers in Beijing want 20% of the country’s energy to from renewable sources by 2030.

Read this next: China is driving a global renewable-energy rebound—but it might not last

An earlier version of this post incorrectly described the NASA satellite images as photos of China’s newest CSP project. In fact, the images are of standard solar arrays that are not related to this project.

China’s Xinhua news agency incorrectly reported that construction has begun on this project; BrightSource says that it’s still in the development stage and pre-construction permits are being issued.

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