Gobi Desert becoming a centre of renewable energy production

Massive investments in wind and solar energy projects

China is well on track to surpass the US as the world’s largest market for wind turbines. While the European Union is struggling to reach its renewable energy targets, China is surpassing its own targets with ease. At the beginning of 2008, the target of the Chinese government was to have 5,000 MW of wind power installed by the end of 2010. Only a few months after proclaiming this figure, it was doubled to 10,000 MW. As of today, it looks like China is going to have 30,000 MW of wind power installed by the end of next year.

A favourable regulatory climate

The Chinese government has mandated that electricity companies must generate 8% of their power from renewable resources by 2020. Combine this figure with the enormous, steep, and ever expanding energy consumption in the country, and you realise that only a development of renewable energy at an up-to-now unseen scale will accomplish such a goal.

For the Chinese energy companies, the 2020 figure is not the only driving power. Chinese authorities are creating more and more barriers to building new coal fired power stations, while renewable energy projects receive easy cash from state-owned banks and are confronted with few regulatory hurdles. As a result, some Chinese regulators now even worry that government mandates might be pushing companies too far too fast.

Boom town in the Gobi Desert

The renewable energy boom town in China is Dunhuang, an oasis in the Gobi Desert. In the desert near Dunhuang, a wind farm of no less than 10 GW is under construction. When completed, this plant will have an installed capacity of more than twelve times that of the Horse Hollow Wind Farm in Texas, which is currently the biggest in the world. On top of that, the Chinese government recently solicited offers to build and operate a 10 MW PV plant near Dunhuang. Plans also exist to develop thermal CSP capacity at the same location.

Most probably, it will still take some time before all those renewable energy plants in the desert will reach full output. Currently, the plants are being built faster than the national grid can erect high-voltage power lines to transport the electricity to the densely populated east of the country. Moreover, an efficient solution still has to be found to deal with the sandstorms that blow in this region each spring.

See also the New York Times article 'Green Power Takes Root in the Chinese Desert'

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