Not content with the recent unveiling of the world's largest floating solar farm (atop a collapsed coal mine, no less), China has now given a face to its aggressive renewable energy goals. And man, is that face adorable.
Connected to a major northern Chinese power grid earlier this summer in the city of Datong, Shanxi province, is a 248-acre solar power plant that closely resembles a panda bear — from above, at least.
From the ground, the newly online 50-megawatt power plant likely isn't more than just an endless sea of photovoltaic panels — a sprawling mess of wires and hardware and buzzing inverters. Nothing special. But from the sky, the installation is a panda — a panda that's either waving hello or a somewhat wonky-eyed panda that is clutching at his pudgy belly and grimacing, depending on which rendering you'd like to think made the final cut.*
Built by the appropriately named Panda Green Energy in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the giant solar panda is part of a larger scheme geared to engage and inspire Chinese teenagers and, ideally, "assist in developing the future leaders in the green energy field." Per PV Magazine, the site will also be home to a solar power education center — or "summer innovation camp" — for students.
And because every panda needs a special friend (for species conservation purposes, of course), Mashable reports that the facility will ultimately expand so that it's capable of generating 3.2 kilowatt-hours of solar power in the next 25 years. As you can see in the above rendering, the complete solar farm will possibly be a double-panda affair.
Why stop with just two? Since, there's nothing more encouraging than healthy, multiplying pandas, Panda Green Energy plans to eventually build numerous — as many as 100 — so-called "solar panda stations" across China, all of them shaped like the country's emblematic bamboo-muncher. (Panda Green Energy hasn't ruled expanding outside of China, too.) Like with the just-launched facility, subsequent panda-shaped solar farms will also feature two types of PV panels: white, thin-film photovoltaic cells and black, monocrystaline silicon cells arranged in an incredibly deliberate manner.
When it comes to taking a playful, crop art-esque approach to solar power plant orientation design, it certainly doesn't hurt that China's national animal is cute, cartoonish and not at all colorful. While a symbol of national pride, the panda is beloved internationally — a nonthreatening symbol of harmony. If China was going to make a 200-plus-acre solar farm look like something, the panda is an obvious choice. No offense to Japan, the country with the second largest installed capacity of solar power behind China, but a power plant shaped like a carp just doesn't have the same effect.
*Since news broke that this facility has gone online, there's been some confusion about the aerial imagery used in stories about Panda Green Energy's inaugural panda-shaped solar power plant. As realistic as they may seem (or as realistic as you may want them to seem), the images used in this and other stories about the power plant are conceptual renderings released by the UNDP and not actual photographs. According to Snopes, there are no known actual aerial photographs of the power plant in circulation. So let's just assume China's panda-shaped solar farm is as panda-y as they imagined it would be.