It wasn’t too long ago that China had a reputation as a coal-guzzling, smog-blanketed polluter. But that is changing – and fast, because China has built the world’s largest floating solar energy farm.
The floating solar energy farm is located in China’s eastern Anhui province in the coal city of Huainan, and is capable of producing 40 MW of power – enough to power a small town of about 15 000 homes. The Anhui province is a coal-rich region and the solar plant is located on a lake that was once the site of intensive mining. Years of heavy rain has filled the area with water, and it’s here that the floating solar energy farm was built.
The Huainan plant is helping China’s transition towards renewables. Previously, the largest floating solar array was a 6.3 MW plant located in the UK.
So why build solar plants on top of lakes and reservoirs? Building on bodies of water which isn’t especially man made or ecologically sensitive helps protect agricultural land and terrestrial ecosystems from being developed for energy use. The water helps cool the electronics in the solar panels, making them work more efficiently. They can also help to mitigate the evaporation of water for drinking or irrigation by intercepting sunlight before it hits the reservoir’s surface.
The modular farm consists of six sprawling flotillas, all connected to converter boxes that turn their intake into usable energy. The whole setup is specially designed to resist the salt and humidity that comes from being on the water.
As the world’s largest energy consumer, running mostly on coal, China often struggles to keep pollution levels at bay, but the country is now beginning to do an admirable job of taking responsibility for its vast environmental footprint. The Huainan plant is one of many new sustainability projects in store for the coming years.