China's Latest Energy Megaproject Shows That Coal Really Is On The Way Out

Workers prepare panels on the Chinese solar farm.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Chinese province of Anhui built a massive floating solar farm on top of an abandoned coal mine. An even larger floating solar plant will come online by May 2018.

Due to rising concerns surrounding air pollution-related deaths, China is trying to invest more heavily in renewable energy projects.

The new solar farms are part of the global shift away from energy generated from fossil fuels.

China has some of the worst air pollution in the world. In several cities, thick layers of smog are common, resulting in thousands of deaths every year.

According to a 2016 study, the top contributor of air pollution-related deaths in China is the burning of coal. The team of Chinese and American researchers behind the study said that pollution from coal caused 366,000 premature deaths in 2013.

To improve the country's air quality, the Chinese government vows to spend at least $360 billion on clean energy projects and create 13 million new renewable energy jobs by 2020. China is already one of the world's biggest investor in alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower.

China's latest energy megaproject — a giant floating solar farm on top of a former coal mine in Anhui — may get the country closer to that goal. 

In 2017, workers turned on the 166,000-panel array, which can generate 40 megawatts of power — enough to accommodate 15,000 homes, according to the South China Morning Post. It's currently the world's largest floating solar project and will operate for up to 25 years.

Local energy company Sungrow Power Supply developed the farm on a lake that was once the site of extensive coal mining. After an explosion caused the mine to collapse, a lake formed and flooded it. As The Guardian notes, building solar plants on top of lakes and reservoirs can protect agricultural land and wildlife on the ground. The water also cools the solar panels, helping them work more efficiently.

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