Chinese government officials signed an agreement with First Solar, an American solar developer based in Tempe, Ariz., for a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in the Mongolian desert.
Set for completion in 2019, the project represents the world’s biggest photovoltaic power plant project to date, and is part of an 11,950-megawatt renewable energy park planned for Ordos City in Inner Mongolia. The agreement calls for ground to be broken on the first 30-megawatt phase of the project by June 1, 2010, followed by 100-megawatt and 870-megawatt additions to be completed by the end of 2014. A final 1,000-megawatt phase is scheduled to go online by Dec. 31, 2019.
When completed, the Ordos solar farm would generate enough electricity to power about 3 million Chinese homes, according to First Solar. The deal could open a potentially vast solar market in China and follows the Chinese government’s recent moves to accelerate development of renewable energy.
First Solar, the globe’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, will also likely build a factory in China to manufacture thin-film solar panels, according to Mike Ahearn, the company’s chief executive. “It is significant that a non-Chinese company can land something like this in China,” said Mr. Ahearn in an interview.“This is nuclear power-size scale,” said Mr. Ahearn added.
China is home to a burgeoning solar industry thanks to generous government support. But Chinese companies like Suntech, the world’s third-largest solar cell maker after First Solar and Q-Cells of Germany, export most of their products. Suntech last year formed a venture to build solar power plants in the United States and has announced plans to open a factory in the Southwest United States.
‘‘Discussions with First Solar about building a factory in China demonstrate to investors in China that they can confidently invest in the most advanced technologies available,’’ Cao Zhichen, vice mayor of Ordos Municipal Government, said in a statement. A high-ranking Chinese official, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, attended the signing of the agreement in Arizona. The memorandum of understanding is just the first step in what is likely to be a long and complicated process to build such a gargantuan solar power plant in a country with little experience in constructing such projects.