Image for post
Image for post
Solar panels spread across the Tibetan Plateau near Golmud, China from November 4, 2015, to February 27, 2016. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

From the Firehose: The Explosive Growth of Solar Power in China

Mar 3, 2016 · 2 min read

China is adopting solar power faster than any other country. According to Reuters, China added 15 gigawatts of solar power in 2015. For comparison, the total installed solar capacity in the United States is 24.1 gigawatts. China’s total capacity was 43 gigawatts by the end of 2015.

The epicenter of the Chinese solar industry is in Qinghai Province near the city of Golmud, under the clear, dry skies of the Tibetan Plateau. Construction of solar parks in the region began in 2009, and the first facilities began operating in 2011. By 2013, solar panels had spread over a wide expanse of the high desert to the east of the city.

Take a look at this Landsat 8 image of the area from 2013:

Now let’s zoom in, and look at a detail of this scene, captured by Planet Labs three years later, in 2016:

NASA’s Landsat 8 and the ESA’s Sentinel-2a satellites provide a wide-angle view of infrastructure projects like China’s rapidly expanding solar farms. Their well-calibrated, multispectral sensors enable precision measurements every few weeks.

Planet’s constellation of high-resolution satellites collects a complementary data set. Frequent, high-resolution data from our constellation gives you a detailed look at these projects more often. Individual rows of panels are visible in the imagery, as well as the long shadows cast by the towers holding up transmission lines.

In recent months, construction hasn’t slowed. Take a look at how this solar farm changes over a four month period:

And more construction is just around the corner. China expects to add an additional 15 gigawatts of solar power this year. As our fleet of on-orbit satellites grows in 2016, we’ll be able to monitor these solar farms even more acutely as they expand into the desert.

In the meantime, we’ll keep our eyes on our imagery firehose for more interesting stories.

See more of our imagery and stories at If you’re a developer, access our platform for free here:

Planet Stories

Using space imagery to tell stories about our changing…

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store