China has announced plans to install 450GW of renewable power in the Gobi Desert. The nation’s planning committee said the massive project would combine both solar and wind facilities and would dwarf similar operations in the region.
The announcement comes as Beijing continues to implement measures to end its reliance on fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2060.
Dominating the vast Chinese-Mongolian border, the Gobi Desert is the sixth-largest in the world. The sunlit region has a climate of two extremes. In the summer, the mercury can hit 45 degrees Celsius, but winter winds from Siberia contribute to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius.
Despite the bleak landscape, China has made significant strides into turning the desert green and extracting value from the otherwise inhospitable area.
An article published in 2021 by Interesting Engineering reported how researchers from Chongqing Jiaotong University developed a plant-based material that enriched the nutrient-poor Gobi soil.
The technology, a cellulose paste made from plant matter, was applied to an arid, 1.6-hectare strip of land in the Ulan Buh Desert. The experimental paste reportedly boosted the soil’s ability to retain water, minerals and other essential nutrients. Researchers claimed the newly fertile cropland could grow watermelons, corn, rice and sunflowers.
While Chinese researchers continue trying to halt desertification in China’s northern territories, Beijing has greenlit a massive energy infrastructure project to meet Xi Jin Ping’s ambitious carbon-neutrality goals.
He Lifeng, director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said the 450GW infrastructure undertaking would be the largest power installation in the Gobi’s history.
An additional 450GW of renewable energy on China’s grid would go a long way to meeting the Chinese president’s goal of 1200GW of solar and wind power.
Last year, China installed 306GW and 328GW of solar and wind energy respectively, with a further 100GW still under construction.
He Lifeng acknowledged that China would employ coal-fired facilities to develop the 450GW facilities; stating that coal-powered energy would provide the baseload of electricity while renewables would address the remaining energy needs.
Having a reliable and existing energy source would ensure operational stability, especially considering the magnitude of China’s plans to rapidly develop its new green infrastructure, said He.
Chinese industry’s relationship with fossil fuels remains complicated. President Xi Jinping announced he would shut down coal-fired plants in China on the way to 2060 and has even halted building new coal plants internationally.