China’s Qaidam Basin could become the equivalent of the Mojave Desert in terms of solar power projects, if new plans to build a 1-gigawatt solar power photovoltaic farm in China come to fruition. While utilities and startups have sited the Southern California desert for some of the world’s largest solar-thermal and solar photovoltaic projects, the China Technology Development Group Corp. and Qinghai New Energy Co. signed an agreement with local Chinese officials over the weekend to begin work on a massive plant that would use crystalline silicon and thin-film solar cells, research firm JLM Pacific Epoch reports (hat tip VentureBeat).
To be clear, 1 gigawatt of power — 1,000 megawatts — from photovoltaics is huge. The next-largest PV project we’ve heard of is a 550-megawatt plant being built by OptiSolar in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as part of a larger PG&E plan to bring 800 megawatts of solar power onto the electric grid. A Godzilla-like PV project by Intersolar in Germany, now more than half complete, is set to generate 40 megawatts. While it’s possible that the Qaidam project will falter before breaking any records, even the first phase — about $146 million for a 30-megawatt plant — could put China on the photovoltaics map. According to JLM, construction is slated to begin as early as 2009.