China and Pakistan are building the world’s largest solar farm in the Punjabi desert

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Pakistan and China are on their way to building the world’s largest solar farm, with the completion of a 100 Megawatt, 400,000-panel pilot power project, the first solar power plant ever built in Pakistan. Spread out over almost 500 acres of flat land in the Punjabi desert and known as the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park (QUASP), the $130 million project took just three months for Chinese company, Xinjian Sunoasis to build. And it is just the first part of a larger project, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

According to Chinadialogue, when the project is complete in 2017, the same site could see a total of 5.2 million photovoltaic cells producing up to 1,000 Megawatts of electricity – or enough to power about 320,000 homes. Critics say the project will create new environmental problems while it solves others.

Built in an area that used to be simply wilderness, and gets 13 hours of sunlight every day, it’s an ideal location for solar power. According to QUASP CEO, Najam Ahmed Shah, it will make energy in Pakistan much cleaner by displacing about 57,500 tonnes of coal burnt each year and reducing carbon emissions by 90,750 tonnes yearly. It will also help Pakistan meets its goal of reducing hydrocarbon usage to 60 percent by 2025, down from the current number of 87 percent.

But the project is not without its detractors. Some experts say the project is being built too far from where the energy will be consumed, and require the costly installation of grid infrastructure and subsequent maintenance. And others point out that renewable energy sources still have their own environmental impacts, such as water usage for solar power production. Solar panels need to be kept clean, which requires water to wash them. According to Chinadialogue, the water needed to clean the expected 5.2 million solar panels for the project would be massive – especially for a country like Pakistan that already faces water shortages.

And since the project is being built in a wilderness area, the construction and increased human activity will undoubtedly affect biodiversity and fauna and flora in the area.

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