Several enormous renewable energy infrastructure projects — the kind that kick-start revolutions — have been completed over the last few years.
They may have their difficulties, and they may not be the perfect model for the future, but at the very least they serve as a reminder that some corners of money, power and influence are fighting the good fight — even if they make a couple mistakes along the way.
Here are five landmark renewable energy projects from around the world.
Ivanpah Solar Facility
Controversial it may be, but there’s no denying the scope of Ivanpah’s concentrating solar power (CSP) array, and its ambition. The $2.2 billion project in the Mojave Desert of California was originally slated to power 100,000 California homes, though it has fallen short of its target in its first year, apparently a victim of bad weather.
Still, solar flux and missed targets aside, the project is a watershed in solar. A 377-MW capacity behemoth, its three 450-foot thermal storage towers are a talismanic symbol of big renewable energy, and undoubtedly a big reason behind there being more solar workers in California than actors.
While it may yet disprove the commercial viability of big solar — the viability its government grant was intended to prove — having only opened in February 2014, it’s still too early to tell.
Gansu Wind Farm
It won’t be completed until 2020 but the Gansu Wind Farm in China is already the largest in the world, with a current capacity of 5,160 MW, five times greater than its nearest competitors — the Jaisamer Wind Farm in India and the Alta Wind Energy Center in California.
By the time it’s finished it’s expected to grow to a total capacity of 20,000 MW with an estimated cost of $17.5 billion.
And so far, at least, there’s no sign of collateral environmental damage, which is welcome news when it’s just one of six wind mega-projects approved in the country.
The Geysers geothermal field in California is the biggest single geothermal field in the world, stretching across 117 square kilometers north of San Francisco. The site of the first geothermal power plant in the U.S., its 23 geothermal plants now have an installed capacity of 2,043 MW.
Not all the plants are currently active, but the 19 operational plants generate enough energy to power 900,000 homes across the state, accounting for 20 percent of all green power in California.
What’s more, after discovering in the late 1980s that the flow of steam from the geothermal field had reduced, The Geysers now use waste water from nearby sewage plants to recharge the reservoir.
Three Gorges Dam
China’s economic boom is chiefly fueled by coal. But China is also one of the largest users of hydroelectricity in the world. Plans were already in place for many more dam projects, and in light of the recent climate change agreement with the U.S., we can expect many more to come.
The Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River is the granddaddy of all hydroelectric dams. And not in a particularly good way. Its scale is stunning. The $24 billion, 22-GW project is eight times the size of the Hoover Dam and ranks as the world’s biggest man-made producer of renewable electricity.
But that very scale is causing numerous environmental problems that may outweigh its green benefits. More than 1 million people have been displaced. The local ecosystem has been completely unbalanced. It caused landslides that have killed dozens of people.
The hope, of course, is that Chinese engineers learn lessons from the Three Gorges dam, but going by past performance, it doesn’t look likely.
With a total generating capacity of 630 MW, the London Array isn’t on the same scale as Ginsu, but then the U.K. isn’t on the same scale as China.
The London Array is still the largest operational offshore wind farm in the world. Inhabiting a windy island, it makes sense that the Brits should take this crown.
Indeed, offshore wind is seen as a key plank in Britain’s green energy policy. But while the Array was originally planned to expand to a full 1-GW capacity, the second phase was denied planning permission due to concern for the migration patterns of red-throated divers.
As many of these projects demonstrate, our transition to green energy has to be handled carefully in order not to set ourselves up for another environmental crisis in the future. There are lessons to be learned from these landmark projects — at least we are taking the time to learn them.