BEIJING/HONG KONG • In a country where one can find everything from chopsticks to slippers designed to look like pandas, one Chinese energy company is going a step further by building 100 solar farms shaped like the bears along the route of the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
Panda Green Energy Group has already connected one such 50MW plant to the grid in the northern province of Shanxi, the first step in a public relations stunt that emphasises the cuddly side of the world's No. 2 economy.
Built with darker crystalline silicon and lighter-coloured thin film solar cells, the plant resembles a cartoon giant panda from the air.
"The plant required an investment of 350 million yuan (S$72 million), and it would require investment of US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) for 100 such plants," according to Panda Green Energy's chief executive Li Yuan.
He did not say where the longer- term investment would come from.
The Hong Kong-based firm is in talks with Canada, Australia, Germany and Italy to launch more panda-shaped power stations.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a plan to emulate the ancient Silk Road by opening new trade corridors worldwide using roads, power lines, ports and energy pipelines.
According to the firm, a 100MW panda power plant would be expected to generate 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of energy over 25 years, capable of supplying power to over 10,000 households annually.
The current solar farm highlights two baby pandas, while farms in the shape of two adult pandas will eventually be added.
Panda Green Energy is constructing its second panda power plant in Shanxi, which accounts for a quarter of China's coal reserves.
Utilisation of one panda solar power plant will save the equivalent of a total 1.06 million tonnes of coal and cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 2.74 million tonnes in 25 years, the company said.
The firm has been investing in and running solar power plants in China's major solar hubs such as Xinjiang and Qinghai province, and some solar projects in Britain.
Shanxi aims to install 12GW of solar capacity by 2020; it installed 1.13 GW in 2015.