Elsewhere, Panda Green Energy, which built the panda-shaped arrays in Datong, has plans to install many more solar farms in China that look like the black-and-white bears from above. That’s the goal of the firm’s “Panda 100 Program”. The designers have even chosen two different kinds of photovoltaic cells, dark and light ones, to approximate panda markings.
The company also aims to build its eye-catching solar parks in other countries – including what it describes as a “panda + rugby design” in Fiji and a “panda + maple leaf design” in Canada.
Liu points out that solar panels continue to get cheaper and cheaper. As such, it may only be a few years before China’s slashed subsidies become irrelevant – solar energy will just be too deliciously inexpensive for investors to ignore. It will be between three and five years before solar is cheap enough to build confidently without subsidy, she says.
But should giant solar parks continue to be built, one oft-ignored complication will have to be dealt with in future decades: solar panel waste. The panels last just 30 years or so, after which they must be broken up. It is hard to recycle them because they contain harmful chemicals like sulphuric acid. China is expected to experience a sudden boom in solar panel waste from around 2040 onwards and there is currently no clear plan for what to do with all that material.
Not quite as problematic as nuclear waste, perhaps, but it is one more hurdle to overcome when ensuring that large-scale solar energy really is a ‘green’ technology.
We’re going to have to deal with that problem at some stage. As Ball explains, the huge interest in cheap solar power, subsidies or not, will likely lead to enormous farms in coming years. “However big these projects are that seem so huge now, there are going to have to be many more of them and they’re going to have to be even bigger,” he says.
In other words, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
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