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This Massive Solar Farm Shows That Some Things Can Grow In The Desert

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China began construction on its first large-scale solar power station in August 2009. These striking before-and-after satellite images show the extent to which this solar farm has expanded in the Gobi Desert over the course of that time.

These solar farms are located on the outskirts of Dunhuang in northwestern China’s Gansu Province. The image on the left was taken on October 15, 2012, and the one on the right on May 22, 2015. In just three years, the area occupied by the photovoltaic panels has expanded threefold. The scale at the bottom left (1 km = 0.62 miles) shows just how huge this solar farm really is.


NASA’s Earth Observatory explains what that means in terms of added power:

According to China Daily, Gansu Province’s total installed solar capacity in 2014 reached 5.2 gigawatts. Clean Technica reported that China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) had set the goal of increasing the province’s capacity by an additional 0.5 gigawatts in 2015.

Across the entire country, total installed capacity in 2014 was 28.05 gigawatts, according to PV Magazine. Of that, more than 10 gigawatts were newly added capacity in 2014, which led to a 200 percent increase in the kilowatt-hours of electricity produced via solar over the year before.


In just the first three months of this year, more than 5 gigawatts of new capacity has been installed in China.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.