Renewable Energy Marvel: World’s largest hydro-solar power plant fully operational in China

The first phase of the world’s largest hydro-solar power plant entered full operation in China on June 25, 2023. (Image Credit: CGTN)

The first phase of the world’s largest hydro and solar power plant entered commercial operation in China on June 25, 2023. At an altitude of about 15,000 feet, it is also the highest elevation for a power plant in the world.

The Kela photovoltaic (PV) power station has an installed capacity of 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar panels and 3GW of hydropower generators in the Yalong River plateau in Sichuan province.

The plant can generate 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually and meet the energy consumption needs of more than 700,000 households a year, according to state media.

“This is equivalent to 600,000 tonnes of standard coal and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1.6 million tonnes,” said Yang Zhiwei, the construction project manager.

The construction of the plant commenced in July 2022. PowerChina Chengdu Engineering, the group leading design, and construction, has said that following the multi-phase installation, the plant’s generation capacity could exceed 100 million kilowatts (100 GW) with an annual production of about 300 billion kWh which will be enough for 100 million households for a year. 

Key facts of hydro-solar plant in China

  • It can generate 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power more than 700,000 households a year.
  • The project covers an area of around 16 million square meters, equivalent to 2,000 standard football fields.
  • It includes more than 2 million solar panels.
  • Built at an altitude of around 4,600 meters, it is among the highest project of its kind in China.
  • A total of 527,000 photovoltaic foundation piles are installed in the power station. If these PV piles were laid straight, the total length would exceed 1,400 kilometers,
  • Nearly 50,000 tonnes of steel were used for the PV powerhouse.
  • It has been built with a total investment of more than 5.3 billion yuan ($790 million).

China’s clean energy ambitions

This remarkable feat in renewable energy, combining hydroelectric and solar power, reflects the country’s push to achieve carbon-neutral status.

Commenting on the unique feature of the plant, Li Sheng, deputy head of the China Renewable Energy Engineering Institute, earlier said: “By complementing the two clean energy power generation characteristics, we can also lift the utilization of power transmission and increase power generation benefits.”

Chinese officials have expressed hope that the hydro-solar plant will emerge as “one of the world’s largest green, clean, and renewable energy bases”, which would help achieve carbon emission reduction goals while optimizing natural resources and boosting industries including agriculture, tourism, and transportation. 

This is not the first of its kind project in the world. Thailand emerged as a leader in Southeast Asia with the launch of the ‘world’s largest floating hydro-solar farm’. The Sirindhorn dam, covering 720,000 square meters of water surface, is a hybrid system that harnesses sunlight during the day and generates hydropower at night. The $34 million solar farm was connected to the grid in October 2021.

In 2022, Australia launched its first ‘solar hydro’ power plant, featuring 4 MW of solar PV generation and 3 MW/50 MWh (17 hours) of storage in northwest Victoria.

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