The solar industry is growing. While many are installing solar panels on their home to become energy dependent, entire nations are teaming up with large solar manufacturers and building massive PV plants comprising thousands of solar panels to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. China currently leads the world in total solar capacity, having surpassed Germany in 2015. With 208 GW of installed PV facilities, China accounts for a third of the world’s solar energy capacity, most of which is generated in the remote northwestern provinces. India is rapidly expanding its solar capacity and is on track to generate 100 GW of solar energy by 2022. In the past few years, Indian investment in solar energy has made it cheaper to produce than coal, spurring rapid development. Though the U.S. doesn’t have any solar plants in the top five list below, the nation is still home to 23 solar parks with capacities over 200 MW, more than any other country. The US boasts an impressive 97 GW of solar capacity, ranking second behind China. Most of America’s solar energy is produced in the desert Southwest. The solar facilities in this list are all co-located solar parks. That means that several contractors and providers help build and operate the plants, which are usually divided into phases. Each plot or phase in a solar park may have different types of solar panels and connect to their own transformers.
5: Tengger Desert Solar Park
Location: Ningxia, China
Capacity: 1.55 GW
Deep in the Tengger Desert in Northwest China lies the massive Tengger Desert Solar Park. The 1,200 square kilometer solar plant went online in 2017 and is the second-largest solar park in China. The collection of solar arrays powers over 600,000 homes around the country. The solar park capitalizes on the Tengger Desert’s arid climate and plentiful sunshine. It’s often called the “Great Wall of Solar” due to its massive size. It’s actually so big, that it takes up 3% of the desert’s total land area. Upon its completion, the Tengger Desert Solar Park was the largest solar plant in the world, until it was overtaken by India’s Pavagada Solar Park in 2019. Although it has the capability to provide massive amounts of electricity, China’s power grid lacks the infrastructure to bring the power to those who need it the most. While most of its population lies along the coastal east and southeast, China’s solar plants are located in the most isolated reaches of the western deserts. Building the infrastructure to get the power to major population centers is another challenge the country must overcome. When the Tengger Desert plant first went online, much of the solar capacity went unused, as it wasn’t able to be transported and there’s little demand in the sparsely populated region around the plant. Up to a third of the power produced was shed due to transmission issues. The problem was so dire, the government was forced to put the brakes on other solar projects to keep them from sitting unused.
4: Benban Solar Park
Location: Aswan, Egypt
Capacity: 1.65 GW
Egypt is aiming high with its renewable energy goals. The Benban Solar Park, just 40 km north of the city of Aswan in southern Egypt, is part of the country’s Nubian Suns Feed-In Tariff Program. The program aims to produce 20% of the nation’s electricity from renewable resources by 2022 by incentivizing investment in solar energy. Before the transition, over 90% of Egypt’s electrical needs came from fossil fuels. Completed in 2019, the Benban Solar Park is the largest solar facility in Africa and will help sustain Egypt’s fast-growing population by tapping into the vast solar potential of the Sahara Desert. Benban Solar Park was officially completed in 2019, though parts of the park went live during construction. In March of 2018, Infinity 50, the first 50 MW section of the park, came online. The Benban Solar Park is made of 41 separate plots with a total of over seven million panels. The park is still not done, as there are plans to expand the park to 1.8 GW. If the full capacity is utilized, then the park will produce about 4 TW per year. The Benban Solar Park will offset 2 million tons of CO2 yearly, which is the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road.
3: Pavagada Solar Park
Location: Karnataka, India
Capacity: 2.05 GW
When the Pavagada Solar Park was completed in 2019, it was the largest solar park in the world. It has since been knocked down a few spots, now the world’s third-largest solar facility. The Pavagada Solar Park, also known as the Shakti Sthala Solar Power Project, is located just over two hours north of Bengaluru, one of India’s largest cities. One of the more interesting aspects of the solar park is that the land is leased to the power companies by local farmers. The Pavagada region is poor and drought-stricken, so the land leases provide income to local farmers as well as lower the overall price of the park. The State of Karnataka is renewable rich and has high solar potential. 62% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources, and it boasts a total of 7.1 GW of combined solar capacity between all of its projects. The Pavagada Solar Farm was first conceptualized in 2015, and construction began a year later. The entire park took four years to complete. Parts of the plant started going online during construction, with the first 100 MW plot becoming operational in December 2017. In January of 2018, the first phase of the project was completed, going online with 600 MW of solar power. The project was completed in December 2019, though some of the capacity remains unused.
2: Huanghe Hydropower’s Hainan Solar Park
Location: Qinghai, China
Capacity: 2.2 GW
Located in China’s remote Qinghai province, the Hainan Solar Park is the second-largest solar park in the world. With over 7 million modules and a nameplate capacity of 2.2 GW, the facility is one of the many solar parks that dot the arid landscape of northwestern China. The Hainan Solar Park was built by the state-owned Huanghe Hydropower Development Company, who built the 200 MW Golmud Solar Park, also in Qinghai. Learning from the mistakes made while building the Tengger Solar Park, the Hainan Solar Park will be connected to an ultra high voltage line that will transport the power generated in the northwestern provinces to the densely populated cities on the east coast. The 800 kV transmission line will run over 900 miles through the nation’s interior and bring solar power to cities like Bejing and Shanghai. The purpose is to facilitate economic growth in the country’s remote and impoverished western provinces while bringing clean energy to the heavily polluted cities in the east and southeast. The plant is part of what the Chinese government calls the “world’s largest supergrid,” which will equalize the distribution of power in the country. The solar park is even equipped with its own 203 MW energy storage facility, which can regulate power surges and supply power during a grid failure. The Hainan Solar Park is set to be part of a much larger 16 GW renewable energy complex that will feature 10 GW of solar PV, 1 GW of concentrated solar, and 5 GW of wind turbines.
1: Bhadla Solar Park
Location: Rajasthan, India
Capacity: 2.25 GW
The Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan is the world’s largest solar plant, with a combined nameplate capacity of 2.25 GW. The massive facility spans 14,000 acres across five rural villages and is composed of 37 separate solar plants. One of the major successes behind the Bhadla Solar Park is that it has achieved the cheapest solar power in India, at 3.4 cents per kWh. The total investment in the project is estimated at $1.4 billion. The solar facility takes advantage of the hot desert climate in Rajasthan near the Pakistani border. Temperatures in the region are known to reach 118 F (48 C), which heats and powers the panels exponentially. Rajasthan leads the nation of India in solar energy potential, being a sunny region with large expanses of flat and undeveloped land. Currently, solar energy makes up 10% of the total power consumption in Rajasthan. The Bhadla Solar Park was built in 4 phases, with construction beginning in 2016, and each phase going online upon completion. A major challenge the solar facility faces are the constant dust storms, which deposit sand on the face of the PV panels and reduces power generation. Engineers have combated this in a sustainable way by employing autonomous robots that clean off the dirt without the use of water. The park was administered by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy as part of India’s plan to expand its renewable energy portfolio. The country recently set a goal to generate 100 GW of solar power by 2022.
Solar parks are getting bigger. In 2010, the world’s largest solar park was the Sarnia PV Power Plant in Canada, which has a capacity of 97 MW. 10 years later, the Bhadla Solar Park was completed with 20 times the capacity, at 2.25 GW. With countries like China, India, and the United States continuing to build massive solar plants, expect this list to become outdated in the near future. Though China and the US currently lead the way in PV generation, India’s rapidly expanding solar program can quickly take the number one spot. China and India are known for their heavily polluted cities and reliance on burning fossil fuels, but now the two nations are locked in a race to build the biggest solar power facilities on Earth. This friendly competition to build more and more solar plants is helping drive down the cost of solar power while bringing renewable energy to the most populated places on Earth. This sets a standard for developing countries across the world. Though still rife with issues such as poverty and political corruption, less developed nations are leapfrogging richer countries in the transition to renewable energy.
The Bhadla Solar Park in India is the world’s largest solar plant. At 2.25 GW, it just beats the Huanghe Hydropower Hainin Solar Park in China by 250 MW. The final phase of the Bhadla Solar Park was completed in 2019. The facility is located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, known for its extreme desert climate.
The largest mega plants are located in China and India. Out of the 9 solar facilities that have a capacity of over 1 GW, 3 are in China and 4 are in India. The United States has the most large solar plants overall. Out of the 58 solar plants that generate at least 250 MW, 23 of them are in the US, while 8 are in China and 11 in India.
China has the highest total solar capacity, with 208 GW of installed capacity. Though China is known for its heavy use of fossil fuels, namely coal, the Chinese government recently began investing heavily in solar. The country has huge solar potential in the desert provinces in the northwest and Tibet.
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