US firm to build world's largest solar plant in China

First Solar will build a two-gigawatt solar farm to supply power to three million Chinese.

A worker holds up solar cells in the factory of a factory a China-based solar panel maker, in Hangzho, Zhejiang Province, Eastern China.

Beijing - China never does things by halves.

Already a Chinese solar panel manufacturer is building the largest solar energy farm in the world, in Portugal.

But that is about to be dwarfed by a new project, announced today in Washington. First Solar, a US solar panel firm, is to build a two-gigawatt solar farm - more than 20 times bigger than the Portuguese installation - in China.

China has a lousy reputation when it comes to pollution and greenhouse gases, and it deserves most of it. No other country emits so much CO2.

But Beijing is getting smart, fast. Chinese industry will still rely mostly on coal for the foreseeable future, but the government here plans to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. That's a target that matches Europe's - the most ambitious in the world.

To read more about how China is pushing ahead on renewable technologies with the fervor of a new space race, click here.

The First Solar farm is due to come onstream in five years, putting out one thousand megawatts - one gigawatt - of energy, which is about 10 times more than the country's entire installed solar capacity at the moment. By 2019 the plant, in Inner Mongolia, will be generating two gigawatts.

The Chinese government has so far been pretty cautious about solar energy: it has dived into wind power in a big way, but officials seemed reluctant to build much solar capacity until they were clear which technology they wanted to back. Interestingly, they have gone not with a Chinese firm, but with one of the world's most technologically advanced companies, despite the fact that it is American.

First Solar makes advanced thin film panels - not widely manufactured in China - and the firm is discussing the construction of a factory in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. If that goes ahead, you can be sure it won't be long before Chinese engineers have learned the technology, improved upon it, and started making their own thin film panels to compete with First Solar.

And, this venture may also be a sign that China's great wall to foreign green technology is starting to crumble.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.