The year ahead promises valuable new growth paths for the renewable energy industry as concern for climate change grows. With this in mind, here’s a look at 10 of the world’s largest renewable energy projects.
Rapid improvements in technology and falling costs of renewable energy resources have made renewables one of the most competitive energy sources. With new projects receiving more funding than ever before, renewable energy is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.
Last was a record-breaking year for the sector as it remained resilient against widespread global disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Deloitte, wind and solar capacity installations remained at an all-time high, with capacity additions of 13.8 GW in the first eight months representing an increase of 28 % in comparison to the same period in 2020.
In 2022, renewable energy growth is expected to accelerate even further as concern for climate change and demand for cleaner energy sources from most market segments grow. As the need and demand for clean, sustainable energy continues to increase and renewable technologies become more advanced, more renewable energy projects are being developed.
While every renewable energy project is just as important as the next when it comes to improving the world’s energy supply, it’s important to understand the sheer scale that some of these projects operate on to truly appreciate just how important renewable energy is for the future of our planet.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the largest renewable energy projects across four different types of renewable energy sources: solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. These are in no particular order and “larger” projects (i.e., other than those listed) may exist.
Largest solar renewable energy projects
Following the 2015 Paris Agreement, there was a surge in new solar farms as governments all around the world rushed to achieve their national clean energy targets. For a long time, the U.S. led the world in solar but today, countries such as India and China are dominating the space.
Huanghe Hydropower Hainan Solar Park, China
China is the world leader when it comes to solar capacity, so it is fitting that the country is also home to the world’s largest solar park. Huanghe Hydropower Hainan Solar Park, also known as the Golmud Solar Park, is a 2.3 GW solar project in the arid climate region of Qinghai Province.
Huanghe is state-owned by Huanghe Hydropower Development and the project is aiming to reach a maximum solar capacity of 16 GW over the next few years. So far, more than USD2.2 billion has been invested into the solar park which was officially connected to the grid in 2020.
See the impact of the largest photovoltaic power plant in China in this video:
Sweihan Photovoltaic Independent Power Project, UAE
The Sweihan Photovoltaic Independent Power Project is located in Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, and covers an area of 7.8 square kilometers. The solar plant was developed by a joint venture of Marubeni Corporation, Junko Solar, and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority with a total investment of USD870 million.
The project uses an innovative module layout design, high-efficiency monocrystalline solar modules, and advanced project maintenance to ensure that the cost of power generation remains low. Commercial operations at the plant began in April 2019 and the latest figures show that it supplies power to more than 195,000 homes in the region.
Enel Villanueva Photovoltaic Plant, Mexico
Enel Villanueva PV Plant is located in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The PV facility is made up of more than 2.5 million solar panels spread out across 2,400 hectares in the Mexican semi-arid region. The 828 MW plant became fully operational in September 2018 and has a maximum production capacity of more than 2,000 GWh per year.
Enel Group invested more than USD700 million into the construction of the plant and deployed a unique pilot program using digital technologies and automation for the plant’s construction. This included the use of GPS-controlled machines for moving earth, drones for 3D topography, and robots for panel installation.
Largest wind renewable energy projects
Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources. According to the 16th Annual Global Wind Energy Council report, 93 GW of new capacity was added in 2020, representing a 53 % year-on-year increase.
Gansu Wind Farm, China
Gansu Wind Farm, also known as the Jiuquan Wind Power Base, is in the west of China’s Gansu province on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert. It has a planned capacity of 20 GW making it one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, wind farms.
The Gansu project is worth an estimated USD17.5 billion and comes as part of the Chinese government’s plans to invest USD360 billion into renewable energy sources. Phase one of the project was completed in 2010 with 3,500 turbines installed.
When the construction of the farm is complete, it will include more than 7,000 wind turbines and, in theory, produce enough energy to power a small country. At the time of writing this article, the farm has just under 8,000 MW (8 GW) of installed capacity.
Alta Wind Energy Centre, United States
The Alta Wind Energy Centre, also known as the Mojave Wind Farm, is located in the Tehachapi Pass of the Tehachapi Mountains, in Kern County, California. With an installed capacity of 1,550 MW, it is the largest wind farm in the United States and there are plans to increase this capacity to 3,000 MW in the future.
The Mojave Wind Farm was originally developed by Terra-Gen Power and construction began in July 2010 and wrapped up in 2013. The project initially aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 5.2 million metric tonnes and generate power for 275,000 residences in California. Today, it supplies around 1,500 MW to Southern California Edison, the primary electricity supplier for most of Southern California.
Hornsea One, United Kingdom
Hornsea One is the world’s largest and most famous offshore wind farm located off the Yorkshire coast with a total capacity of 1.2 GW. It was the world’s first offshore wind farm to surpass 1 GW in installed capacity. The wind farm covers 407 square kilometers and is made up of 174 Siemens turbines with a capacity of 7 MW each.
Hornsea One officially became operational in early 2020 and produces enough energy to power more than 1 million UK homes. The project is owned 50-50 by both Ørsted and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and is part of an USD8.7 billion investment to transform the Humber region into a renewable energy hub.
Largest hydroelectric renewable energy projects
Hydropower is one of the oldest and most widely used renewable energy sources. China is the world’s largest producer of hydroelectricity and operates three of the world’s 10 biggest hydroelectric power plants.
Three Gorges, China
Three Gorges is a 22.5 GW hydroelectric power plant in Yichang, China. It’s the world’s largest hydropower station and is a conventional impoundment facility that exploits the water resources of the Yangtze River to produce electricity.
Construction of the USD29 billion Three Gorges facility began in 1993 and was completed almost 20 years later in 2012. As part of the project, a 181 meter tall and 2,335-meter long gravity dam was built. The plant itself consists of 32 turbine units that are each rated over 700 MW, and two 50 MW power generators. The annual output of the hydroelectric plant is estimated to be around 85 TWh.
The 14 GW Itaipu hydroelectric plant is located on the Parana River at the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Construction of Itaipu began all the way back in 1972 and was completed in 1982 at a cost of USD19.6 billion. Power production at the facility began in 1984.
In 2018, the Itaipu facility supplied 15 % of Brazil’s and 90 % of Paraguay’s energy consumption. It consists of 20 generating units with a capacity of 700 MW each. It produced 103.1 million MWh in 2016, which at the time made it the biggest generating hydropower plant in the world.
Take a closer look at the Itaipu Binacional Hydroelectric Plant in this video:
Largest geothermal renewable energy projects
Geothermal activity has been chugging along in the background — or rather, below the surface — for centuries, and we’re only just now beginning to utilize it for energy production. While Iceland is famous for powering its entire country with geothermal energy, the largest geothermal project is located in the United States.
The Geysers Geothermal Complex, United States
Located around 120 kilometers north of San Francisco is Geysers Geothermal Complex, the world’s largest geothermal energy project. The complex is made up of 15 power plants that together have a combined installed capacity of 1,205 MW (1.2 GW).
The Geysers complex coves an area of 78 square kilometers and production from the geothermal field has been going on since the 1960s.
Take a closer look at the Itaipu Binacional Hydroelectric Plant in this video:
Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Mexico
Operating with an installed capacity of 720 MW, Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station is located in south Mexicali, Baja California. Like all geothermal fields in Mexico, it’s owned and operated by the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
Cerro Prieto features four plants that together are made up of 13 units. The first plant at the facility was commissioned in 1973 while the fourth plant was commissioned in 2000. The turbines at Cerro Prieto include four 110 MW condensing type, four 110 MW double-flash type, four 37.5 MW single-flash type, four 25 MW single-flash type, and one 30 MW single-flash type.