With the current turbulent geopolitical state, a lot has been said about the over-reliance on oil and gas, especially from Russia. While the UK and the U.S.A are talking about nuclear power plants with the potential of nuclear fusion in the future, China is planning something else in the Gobi Desert involving renewable energy.
Building Renewable Energy Plants In The Arid, Sun-soaked Gobi Desert
According to Reuters, China wants to maximise on the vast arid plains of the north and northeastern regions, commonly known as the Gobi Desert. The plan is to generate power from renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. Early estimates from the central planning agency indicate that they could generate as much as 450GW.
Why the Gobi desert? Well, it is the sixth-largest desert in the world within the geographical boundaries of China and Mongolia. It is not a new concept as, last year, China already achieved some success in converting small patches of desert terrain into more suitable land.
With an increased need for food production and limited suitable land at their disposal, the idea makes sense. The bigger picture, however, is that China wants to strengthen its renewable energy production which is why this project is of higher priority, at least in the short term.
Continued Efforts Toward Renewable Energy
As stated by Reuters, China has already created a capacity of 308GW of solar and 328 GW of wind-powered energy at the end of the last year. The drive toward renewable energy didn’t stop there as they are currently building another 100 GW of solar capacity in the desert region.
President Xi Jinping made a commitment to other countries that China wants to curb its carbon emissions in 2030. As such, they are building up to a combined 1,200 GW of wind and solar power infrastructure in a shift toward using more sustainable sources of energy.
He Lifeng, the director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said at an event: “The new 450 GW facility planned for the Gobi desert is the largest undertaking of its kind in any desert across the world.”
Is Solar Power The Future Of Renewable Energy?
While nobody really knows if or when fossil fuels will run out but having the right infrastructure and technologies at our disposal is highly recommended. Since the Sun could essentially power the entire planet, shouldn’t we be putting more focus on renewable energy?
Estimates indicate that if more people adopted solar power, we could lower future climate change damages saving $259 billion globally (Source: SunShot Initiative, US Department of Energy). Here are some of the biggest advantages (and disadvantages) of using solar power for a low-carbon economy.
Advantages Of Solar Power
- Solar power provides a clean source of energy that does not contaminate the environment.
- It is renewable energy and quintessentially unlimited as it is harnessed directly from the sun
- Solar energy directly reduces our carbon footprint
- Solar power can help you save on your monthly electricity bills which we all know are getting out of hand
- Many governments are providing incentives to people installing solar panels and some even offer subsidies by using solar power
- You could share the extra power with your neighbours or an entire neighbourhood
- Maintaining solar power costs much less and they only have to be cleaned a few times a year
- Solar power is also adaptable where the panels can either be on the roof or in a different configuration
Disadvantages Of Solar Power
- Whilst it’s clear that solar energy is a great, renewable resource with a bright future, there are a few downsides.
- High initial investment as the energy may be ‘free’ but the installation can be costly
- Manufacturers of solar panels emit some harmful greenhouse gases, albeit on a much smaller scale than fossil fuels
- Since solar power depends largely on the sun, it’s not always bright and shining. When conditions are cloudy or at night, you might not be able to generate any electricity that day.
- The biggest challenge at the moment is affordable energy storage as batteries are getting better but they can be expensive and the technology is not quite there yet, at least not for the mass-market
Why Is China Still Using Coal?
In contrast, coal-fired power plants and ultra-high voltage transmission lines will still be used as backup. This will help ensure the electricity grid remains fully operational despite fluctuations in power output due to adverse weather conditions.
According to He Lifeng, their coal-based power plants can deliver the baseload of power while renewable energy plants would meet the remaining electricity needs. While certainly not fully sustainable, it is a necessary step to ensure the power grid remains steady, especially with the plans to build large-scale installations of renewable energy.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also confirmed that it will continue to use traditional sources, such as coal, in addition to renewable energy. It is mainly to ensure they generate enough power for peak-time demands.
Wind Power As A Source Of Renewable Energy
While we spoke mostly about solar power, according to Wind Europe, wind power could become the backbone of future renewable energy systems. Many anticipate that wind power could meet a quarter of Europe’s power demands by 2030. The sector currently accounts for more than 300,000 European jobs and 40% of all wind turbines sold globally.
As good as renewable energy may be, the world’s over-reliance on fossil fuels could set many attempts back. This could be the case with China’s stance to rely on traditional sources which may impede the rapid development of alternate and innovative methods of generating fuel. One such example is the use of bacteria from the Gobi desert to harness solar energy by developing artificial photosynthesis systems.