China to build 450 GW of power infrastructure in Gobi desert

But won't drop reliance on coal.
Ameya Paleja
Sand dunes in the Gobi desertmaurusasdf/iStock

China aims to put to use the vast arid spans in its north and northeastern regions, commonly known as the Gobi Desert to generate power from renewable sources, Reuters reported. The central planning agency estimates that as much as 450GW could be generated in the region using solar and wind power. 

The Gobi desert, the sixth-largest in the world, lies in the geographical boundaries of China and Mongolia. Last year, we had reported how China had achieved some degrees of success in converting small patches of this desert into arable lands.  At a time, when food production needs to be increased and cultivable land is a critical resource, the idea seems quite reasonable. However, China also wants to strengthen its renewable energy production and is giving it a higher priority in the short term. 

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Renewable energy behemoth

According to the Reuters report, at the end of the last year, China already had built-up a capacity of 308GW of solar and 328 GW of wind-powered energy in place. In addition to this, the country is currently building another 100 GW of solar capacity in the desert region. 

In line with President Xi Jinping's commitment made to other countries, China wants to top its carbon emissions at the end of this decade and is building up to 1,200 GW of combined wind and solar power infrastructure to shift to a more sustainable source of energy. The 450 GW facility planned in the Gobi desert is the biggest of its kind on any desert, He Lifeng, the director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said at an event. 

Backed by coal

In sharp contrast to the announcement, He also said that the Chinese electricity grid would be backed by coal-fired power plants and ultra-high voltage transmission lines.  

Citing the fluctuations in power output due to variable weather conditions, He said that coal-based power plants could deliver the baseload of power while renewable power plants would tend to the remainder of energy needs. This was necessary to ensure the steady operation of the grid, considering the large-scale installations of renewable power the country had in the pipeline. 

The NDRC also said in its 2022 report that it will continue to use traditional sources of energy such as coal and power generated using it to address peak-time demands, Reuters reported. 

China's stance to rely on traditional sources is likely to put a dampener on the rapid development of alternate and innovative methods of generating fuel, such as using bacteria from the Gobi desert to harness solar energy. 

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