Here at the Climate Nexus Energy Transition desk, we like superlatives that show the scale of the transition to a low carbon economy. So it was a good week when we heard that China is building the world’s biggest solar power plant, a new record was set for the cheapest offshore wind farm, and a project in Abu Dhabi received the lowest-ever bid for solar power.
Let’s start in China, where the country’s biggest private investment group is building the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant in the northwest region of Ningxia.
The $2.3 billion plant, which is halfway complete, will have a capacity of two gigawatts — or roughly the output from New York’s Indian Point nuclear power station. It will occupy over 4,600 hectares, or about 7,000 U.S. city blocks.
As an added bonus, the plant’s panels are providing shade in the arid region, reducing evaporation and allowing crops to grow in the otherwise barren land.
In Denmark, the Swedish utility Vattenfall won a contract to build two new offshore wind farms with a bid of roughly $67 per megawatt hour — the cheapest ever for an offshore project.
For context, while not directly comparable to U.S. prices, that bid puts it within striking distance of utility-scale solar and generally lower than coal or natural gas in the United States, once all subsidies are removed and fuel costs are factored in, according to an analysis of electricity generating technologies from the investment bank Lazard.
Once quite pricey, the cost for offshore wind has been falling rapidly as the equipment and know-how required for the complex projects becomes more widely available and the turbines grow in size. Formerly confined to Europe, offshore wind is beginning to take off in the United States, with the recent completion of the Block Island wind farm and growing interest from Massachusetts, New York and other states.
Supporters note the technology’s many benefits — including the ability to site it close to major population centers yet far enough away from homes, as well as the stronger, more consistent ocean breezes. Costs in the United States remain well above those in Europe (Lazard has it at $152 per megawatt hour), but the Vattenfall bid represents what is possible as the industry expands.
Turning to the desert, a recent bid for a solar project in Abu Dhabi came in at 2.4 cents a kilowatt hour, or $24 per megawatt hour — the lowest price ever. The bid, from Chinese solar-panel maker Jinko and Japanese firm Marubeni, was roughly half a cent lower than the previous record low, and continues the trend of rapidly falling solar power prices worldwide.
It’s a major reason why there’s now twice as much money being invested in renewables globally as compared to fossil fuels.
Elsewhere, the U.S. Navy began generating the country’s first-ever commercial wave power off the coast of Hawaii. The project uses a buoy to generate electricity as it rises and falls in the waves, and then sends that power to Oahu’s power grid via an undersea cable.
And yes, we know first isn’t a superlative — but we like firsts too.