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One of solar power’s great advantages is its scalability, and this May we got a perfect example of how that can work in practice – from a colossal solar array switching on for the first time, to a small, sideways-thinking project aiming to accelerate one city’s route to green energy.

In the same month, the International Energy Agency announced that it expected investment in low-carbon electricity to hit double that of fossil fuel power in 2024, principally because of a surge in solar project spending.

At the huge end of the scale, China brought the world’s largest solar plant online, capable of generating 6 billion kilowatt hours annually – enough to power a small country. The 33,000-acre site in the desert region around Urumqi in the northwest region of Xinjiang eclipses the second and third largest arrays (also in China), and continues the nation’s high-speed pursuit of green power – an achievement the IEA recently described as “extraordinary.” (It also predicted that China would be responsible for almost 60% of global renewable capacity by 2028. In 2023 China alone installed more new solar power capacity than the rest of the world put together did in the previous year.)

Should you be minded to adopt Teslas as a unit of measurement, then the 3.5 GW site could charge 2 million of the EVs every year.

Xinjiang is rapidly becoming China’s renewables hub, not only rich in solar and wind power, but manufacturing solar panels at a rate and price that has western companies concerned (potentially one of the reasons the USA have chosen May as the month to increase tariffs on Chinese made solar panels and electric cars.)

The grave state of solar power in Spain

Meanwhile in Spain, we saw the launch of the Requiem In Power (RIP) project – a scheme to install solar panels across the cemeteries of Valencia…

Around 6,500 panels are being placed on crypts, above graves and on other structures in five public cemeteries. Just over 800 have made their appearance so far. While a small start, if RIP hits its target, it could eventually become the largest urban solar farm in Spain. The resulting 2.8MW will be used to power public utilities as well as some local homes, and is hoped to save around 140 tons of carbon emissions per year.

It’s part of Valencia’s ambitious Climate Mission project which aims to see the city hitting climate neutrality by the end of this decade, 20 years ahead of the EU’s 2050 goal. The scheme has the advantage of retaining the land for its original use, not the case when solar arrays are placed on farmland and the area is lost to agriculture.

(Strictly speaking, the idea is not new. Several years ago the French town of Saint-Joachim in the middle of the soggy Brière marsh peat bog first covered its cemetery to prevent flooding, then had the idea of decking out the roof with solar panels. So they officially get grave power bragging rights.)

Finally, back to the International Energy Agency announcement. The global energy watchdog declared that investment in renewables, nuclear power, electrical vehicles, power grids, energy storage and heat pumps would hit $2tn this year. Around $500bn of that will be on solar power. This is double the $1tn forecast for hydrocarbon spend.