In our quest to reduce carbon emissions, solar farms are becoming a common sight across the globe9. What was once a slow-moving technology has now become a mainstream alternative to energy produced from fossil fuels1. To demonstrate this growth, we take a look below at the 10 biggest solar farms in the world
Solar farms have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions. As a result, the largest solar farms now provide large communities with endless, clean solar energy. Across the world, we are now producing around 398GW of solar energy each year2, with that likely to continue to grow.
However, this still remains a small fraction of overall energy production. Globally, even given the vast number of solar projects completed, solar contributes 2% of global power output (2017).
Meanwhile, solar is predicted to grow by a further 580GW in the next 5 years (IEA). And there are many solar farms still awaiting completion. As such. We can see many strides taken in the right direction as we aim to reduce emissions and meet renewable targets4.
With each KW of solar energy installed, the carbon footprint required to produce our energy needs can be reduced by 3,000 pounds each year.
With both forecast growth and a requirement to switch to renewable energy sources, solar farms will continue to play an important role in helping the environment.
The Ningxia Province in China is the location for the largest solar park in the world. The Tengger Desert Solar Park covers an area of 17 square miles. The plant, which boasts an impressive ability to generate a huge amount of power can provide China with around 1.5 GW of solar energy.
While this solar farm produces significant amounts of solar power, China does not currently make use of all of it as the country is too vast to transmit the power across such a large geographical area. The majority of the population lives in the eastern part of the country as the west consists of 20% desert as well as mountainous regions.
Therefore, with Tengger Desert’s location being in the northwest, in an area that consists of mainly desert, there is not a requirement for electricity on the same scale. The result, is a number of challenges when it comes to transmitting the power to areas of the country where the population is higher.
Despite the challenges, the Chinese government is doing all it can to seek a solution. Therefore, the aim is to put the infrastructure in place that will allow the transmission of the energy it generates10.
However, to put into perspective Tengger’s contribution China currently has a combined 174 GW of installed solar capacity (2018). This is more than enough electricity to power the whole of the UK for a day.
The Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park comes close to the world's largest solar park. The park consists of 4 million solar panels, all of which can generate 8 million kWh of power.
Located in Kurnool District in India, the park covers 5,932 acres of land. The owner, Andrha Pradesh Solar Power Corporation Private Limited, aims to help India reach its target of 175GW of renewable energy by 20227. The solar farm comprises a number of developers including Greenko, Softbank, Adani Power and Azure Power.
Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park utilises 2,000km of cables and each solar panel has a capacity of 315 watts. With the right conditions, the farm has the ability to supply the Kurnool District with 80% of its power. As it currently stands, the park has drawn on $1billion of inward investment.
The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park was once the largest solar farm in the world. Development began in 2013, with the park originally generating 320 MW of power. After several phases of development, it saw an increase in output of 850 MW.
The solar panels cover an area of 10 square miles in Qinghai province, China. In 2017, the park was utilising more than 4 million solar panels in order to generate power.
The solar park helps to feed into the progress that China is making as a producer of solar energy. In 2016, China had doubled its installed capacity to 77 GW. The owner, Huanghe Hydropower has acknowledged addressing climate change and so, the park generates enough renewable solar power for 100,000 homes.
Longyangxia Dam achieves enhanced output through integration with the hydroelectric power station linked to the nearby Longyangxia Dam.
Enel Green Power Mexico, the owner of Villanueva PV Plant, began generating solar power in March 2018. The park presently has an ability to generate a total of 828 MW and uses 2.5 million solar panels to do so. Located in the Viesca, State of Coahuila, it covers 2.400 hectares of land and will eventually power 1.3 million homes. It will also have the ability to prevent 783,638 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
The cost of the project is around $650 million and the project will aid Mexico in meeting its target of 50% of electricity from clean energy sources by 2050.
As India strives to reduce greenhouse emissions, the Kamuthi Solar Power Project is helping to make a difference8. After eight months of development and a workforce of 8,500 people working 24 hours a day, the plant was commissioned in 2017.
The plant covers an area of 2,500 hectares in the State of Tamil Nadu, which is the equivalent of 476 football pitches. At its peak, it can generate 648 MW and deliver power to 150,000 homes.
The owner, Adani, spent around $679 developing the project.
(Noor Complex Solar Power Plant)
The Noor Complex Solar Power Plant is owned by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy. Covering an area of 6,178 acres, it has the ability to generate 580 MW.
The development took place in three phases, however, this plant does stand out in comparison to other plants. Using heated molten salt, the plant has the ability to store solar energy. This enables it to continue to produce electricity throughout the night.
Its location is in the Moroccan desert and within close proximity of the city of Ouarzazate. It has been operational since 2016 and cost a total of $9 billion5. Funding came from the World Bank and the Clean Technology Fund.
Using two million mirrors, the plant generates enough power to supply 6% of the country. The plant will eventually help to reach Morocco's renewable energy mix target of 52% by 2030. The first phase of the plant helped to reduce carbon emissions by 280,000 tons. This is the equivalent of 1% of CO2 emissions in Morocco.
The Solar Star Projects was undertaken by the SunPower developer and is owned by BHE Renewables. Producing a total of 579 MW, this plant has the ability to deliver power to more than 250,000 homes.
The development helped to create 650 jobs and upon completion in 2015, it was the largest plant in the world.
What makes this plant unique is that it uses a different kind of solar module. Despite the plant covering 3,200 acres, it uses fewer solar panels. Its 1.7 million high-wattage solar panels deliver a higher output.
From its location in California, it helps to prevent 570,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of removing more than two million cars from the roads over a period of 20 years.
Located in the Mojave Desert in California, Ivanpah’s development took funding from several sources. Funding came from NRG who gave $300 million, Google also invested $168 million, while the US government gave a $1.6 billion loan guarantee.
The plant, which was built by Bechtel is built on public land.
The original plan was for the project to generate 440 MW. However, this had to change in order to prevent disturbance of the surrounding natural habitat. Therefore, it now has the ability to generate 392 MW. Despite the reduction in power, it still has the ability to provide power to 15,000 homes.
The plant contains three towers that reach a height of 459ft. Known as a concentrated solar farm, the towers glow bright, eventually generating the desired output.
The plant has had its fair share of problems. It uses more water than originally thought and it also uses more natural gas6. As a result, it generates CO2 emissions and that offsets some of the benefits that come with clean solar power.
The Agua Caliente Solar Project in Arizona produces 290 MW of solar power. The plant was built by First Solar who will also manage operations for owners NRG Energy and BHE Renewables.
During construction of the plant, around 450 workers would be seen on the site daily. The plant covers an area of 2,400 acres and has the ability to deliver power to 100,000 homes. From an environmental perspective, it reduces CO2 by 220,000 tons. Unlike other plants, it requires no water to help generate electricity, helping to reduce its impact on the environment.
The cost of construction was $1.8 billion, with the Department of Energy providing a loan of $967 million. In 2012, the plant entered the Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards. Subsequently winning the award for Project of the Year.
Covering around 960 hectares, the development of the Setouchi Kirei Mega Solar Power Plant took place on a retired salt field.
From its location in Okayama, Japan, it generates 235 MW of clean solar energy3. It utilises more than 900,000 solar panels and will help to cut emissions by 192,000 tons.
The project, which went into operation in 2018 cost an estimated $1.1 billion. It is currently the largest-scale power plant in Japan. The project was run by Setouchi Kirei Future Creation LLC with finance coming from GE Energy Financial Services, Chudenko Corp, Toyo Engineering Corp and Kuni Umi Asset Management.
The top 10 solar farms in production contribute more than 6,949MW of power. With significant growth in solar farms forecast the top ten biggest solar farms will likely look very different in a few years. The following developments are set to prove just how prominent solar power really is as an alternative.
By 2020, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in the UAE will have a capacity of 1,000 MW. This will increase to 5,000 MW by 2030. This growth in solar capacity will turn it into the largest solar panel farm in the world.
Once it reaches completion, it will prevent 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. What’s more, the site will also have an innovation centre along with a Research & Development centre. Further, the site will also contain solar powered desalination and testing facilities
The clean energy will be created by PV and concentrated solar power technologies. Dubai has ambitious renewable energy targets which may come as a surprise given the UAE's reputation as an oil nation.
For example, the Dubai clean energy strategy is targeting 75% renewable energy usage by 2050. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is already set to help them get there.
This is another significant development. Spanning 45 sq km in the Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district, it will be able to produce 2,255 MW of power. However, it will only reach this once all four phases have been completed.
By the end of 2019, the plant will become operational. At this point, over 1 million solar panels will have been installed.
This plant will eventually showcase just how serious India’s solar power programme really is. Owned by Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation Limited, it’s sheer size will help to accelerate towards their emission reduction targets.
With many different renewable energy targets to meet, solar appears well placed to play a significant role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
In the face of extreme weather events, political movement, protests, and growing concern we cannot help but feel that these plants are just the beginning. They prove that it is possible to generate clean energy to power entire communities11.
So, as we head towards the middle of the 21st century, the number of solar farms will dramatically increase. The aim, of course, is an endless supply of clean energy that we can utilise. Therefore, it is more important than ever before that we drive emissions down and increase our reliance on solar power.
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