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The world is slowly but steadily increasing its investments in solar energy sector as it becomes more affordable with each passing day. As the global manufacturing hub for solar photo voltaic panels (with nearly 75 percent of total PV panel manufacturing), China is now considered to be the fastest-growing market for solar energy for the next five years.
China also has a dubious distinction of being the world's largest carbon emitter. So, in order to reduce rising greenhouse emissions, China continues to announce ambitious clean energy targets. For example, it has raised its solar target for 2015 from 15 gigawatts to 17.8 gigawatts. "This reflects China's stronger efforts to reduce emissions," said Peng Peng of Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association. In fact, a BNEF report in January 2015 revealed that at $89.5 billion, China has now become the largest market for renewable energy.
China is building its largest solar plant
China is the largest consumer of coal which represents almost 65 percent of the country's total energy consumption. The increased usage of coal and Petcoke (which produces even more CO2 emissions than coal) has resulted in higher levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There is little surprise as to why the Chinese government is so keen to invest in solar energy.
As a part of its future energy strategy, China announced last year that the share of renewables would increase from 9.8 percent in 2013 to 15 percent by 2020. It also announced that by end of 2020, the total solar capacity in China would be increased from 15 gigawatts (end of 2013) to 100 gigawatts. In order to achieve this mammoth target and reduce its dependence on coal, China has already started taking some important steps.
China has started constructing its largest solar power plant which will be spread over 10 square miles in the Gobi desert in its Qinghai province. With a total installed capacity of 200 megawatts, this upcoming solar power plant, when completed, will be capable of providing energy to nearly a million households. In fact, this plant will be China's first large scale solar plant under commercial operation and is being constructed by the Qinghai Solar -- Thermal Power Group who will also be operating it.
As for the technology, the upcoming solar power plant will use heliostats for focusing the sunlight on a centrally located tower in order to generate energy, thereby providing a better alternative to a standard solar trough system, along with greater efficiency. "It's (the plant) designed heat storage is 15 hours, thus, it can guarantee stable, continual power generation," said the group board chair Wu Longyi.
Will this reduce the need for coal-fired plants?
As coal is the biggest source of carbon emissions in China, the country needs to reduce its dependence on coal fired plants. Lower coal usage would result in less pollution and reduction in greenhouse gases.
Once the new solar power plant at Qinghai is commissioned, it would be able to offset the usage of coal by around 4.26 million tons per year and reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions by 896,000 tons and 8,080 tons respectively. China is currently planning to start the construction of another 50-megawatt power plant in its Shanxi Province.
China still burns a massive volume of coal, so it will need to build a few more solar power plants to take a sizable bite out of coal consumption.