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The world’s largest solar farms and their global power contribution

Verified by Amy Reeves

Ah, the sun; it gives us warmth, light, and social-media-friendly sunsets. Our world, quite literally, revolves around it. Yet, as the climate crisis rages on and we aim to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions – fuelled by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas for energy – pumped into our atmosphere, the sun’s role will take on an increasingly important dimension.

We’re talking about solar power – the renewable, and essentially limitless, supply of clean, affordable energy the suns rays provide. To harness them, though, we need the right facilities – and here’s where solar farms come in.

Below, we’ll walk you through what solar farms are (and the key components involved) before recapping the solar electricity generation’s global state of play. Then, we’ll take you on a whistle-stop world tour – from the desert plains of China and India to the sun-drenched vistas of Spain and Egypt – of 10 of the largest solar farms operating in 2023.

So what is a solar farm, exactly? Let’s start with that.

What is a solar farm?

A solar farm (also known as a solar park or solar power plant) is a large-scale facility where solar energy is captured and prepared for public use.

These solar panels – also called photovoltaic (PV) panels – capture sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Then, inverters convert this into alternating current (AC) – the type of electricity our homes and businesses use every day – before feeding it into the grid and distributing it, via power lines and substations, throughout local and regional communities.

So, what does a solar farm look like? Well, think vast fields, full of rows upon rows of solar panels packed in next to each other in a dense, grid-like formation. These solar panels will usually be mounted on structures to slant them at the most optimal angle for capturing the sun – or even tracking it as it moves across the sky for day-long electricity generation.

Solar farms are a vital form of renewable energy. Because the sun’s energy is a sustainable resource (and because harnessing it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, unlike burning fossil fuels) solar farms will go a long way to mitigating the ongoing climate emergency. And play a crucial role in reforming an energy sector that is, far and away, the world’s most polluting industry.

Components of a solar farm

Solar farms aren’t just fields of solar panels. They’re delicate ecosystems that rely on a range of different technologies and techniques all working in harmony. These include:

Solar panels

Solar panels are responsible for capturing the sun’s light and converting it into electricity. Solar panels are made of semiconductor materials – like silicon – which allows them to generate an electric current when exposed to sunlight.

Inverters

With the DC electricity generated, it needs to be converted – and here’s where a solar farm’s inverters come in. Inverters take the DC electricity the solar panels generate and convert it into its usable AC counterpart.

There are several different types of inverters, including:

  • Central inverters, which handle a solar farm’s entire solar array
  • String inverters, which manage smaller groups of panels in a solar farm
  • Microinverters, which are attached to individual solar panels in a solar farm

Transformers

The role of transformers is to increase the voltage of the electricity the solar panels have generated – before it’s transmitted to the grid. By giving the voltage a boost, transformers help avoid the loss of energy during the long distances it has to travel to its destination. (A bugbear which, as we’ll see, is already having major consequences for China’s solar industry.)

Monitoring and control systems

Monitoring and control systems are there to ensure the solar farm is operating at optimal levels. These systems track the farm’s performance: collecting real-time data from its solar panels, inverters, and transformers to identify and resolve issues as and when they occur.

On top of this, solar farms may employ a range of other tools and technologies. Weather sensors, for example – which measure parameters like temperature, wind speed, and humidity – can help solar farm operators understand how the park performs under different meteorological conditions.

The power of solar: Global contribution

Right now, solar power is the third largest source of renewable energy in the world.

In 2022, solar power accounted for 1,322.62 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity worldwide – 15.49 per cent of the planet’s total renewable energy generation of 8,538.5 TWh.

With a total of 4,334.19 TWh of electricity generated in 2022, hydropower remains the world’s biggest source of renewable energy, while wind (2,104.84 TWh) is second. Other sources of renewable energy – which include tidal, biomass, and geothermal – accounted for 776.86 TWh, or 9.09 per cent of the total.

In the global solar stakes, China is leading the way with a total of 420.35 TWh of solar energy produced in 2022. This astonishing output was more than double the second-largest solar generators, the US (204.29 TWh in 2022). The US, in turn, generated over double that of third place Japan (98.69 TWh), while India (95.17 TWh) followed closely.

Yet the countries most involved in the generation of solar power aren’t necessarily the ones with the heaviest dependence on it.

The Cook Islands, for example, are the most reliant on solar: with 40 per cent of the Pacific Island nation’s electricity generation coming through this source. Namibia (24.40 per cent), Palestine (23.26 per cent), Luxembourg (19.47 per cent), and Chile (17.45 per cent) are also among the world’s most sun-centred states. Chile, in particular – with solar energy supplying 7.59 per cent of the South American country’s primary energy – leads the world in this metric.

That’s the current state of play – so what’s in store for the future?

Well, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global solar power generation is on track to hit its target in a Net Zero Scenario. Worldwide solar generation in 2022 increased by 26 per cent on its 2021 total, and – if this growth continues – we could expect to see as much as 8,255 TWh of clean solar energy produced in 2030 alone.

In the UK, solar’s growth is more modest – but it’s growing, nevertheless. In June 2023, the UK’s solar capacity recorded an increase of 6.7 per cent over the preceding year for a total of 15,200 megawatts (MW).

This represents an ongoing trajectory of upward growth (the UK’s solar capacity was 12,544 MW in 2022, and just 89 MW in 2010) that’s mirrored by the UK’s solar generation output. In 2004, the UK generated just 4 gigawatt hours (GWh) of solar electricity; in 2022, however, that figure was 13,283 GWh – an increase of almost 332,000 per cent.

Despite the constant barrage of bad climate-related news, from floods to forest fires, solar power’s steady rise is both a literal and metaphorical ray of sunshine. And, set against the backdrop of our world’s toxic dependency on unsustainable forms of energy, solar power will only become more important – as will the farms and factories producing it.

On that note, which solar farms are leading the way for the world – and doing so on the largest scales? Let’s take a look.

The 10 largest solar farms in the world

In the context of solar farms, defining ‘large’ can be tricky. Physical size? Capacity? Total electricity output? That’s why, to assess the largest solar farms in the world through a more nuanced lens, we took into account a range of factors, not only including capacity or land size by area, but also total investment and ambitions for the future, too.

With that said, 10 of the largest solar farms in the world are:

  1. Talatan PV Power Station
  2. Bhadla Solar Park
  3. Pavagada Solar Park
  4. Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park
  5. Benban Solar Park
  6. Tengger Desert Solar Park
  7. Kalyon Karapinar Solar Power Plant
  8. NP Kunta
  9. Noor Abu Dhabi
  10. Escatron-Chiprana-Samper Solar Park

Read on as we delve into the unique features, location, capacity, and output of each.

1. Talatan PV Power Station, China

Nestled in the remote province of Qinghai – between China’s largest inland salt lake and one of its most fearsome mountain ranges – lies Talatan PV Power Station.

Also known as the Gonghe Solar PV Park (and the Gonghe Talatan Solar Park), Talatan is a cluster of solar farms that, collectively, span 609.6 km2 – just shy of the entire Caribbean island country of St Lucia (617 km2).

Reflecting the sheer scale of the Talatan PV Power Station is its capacity – a gargantuan 9,000 MW, which contributes to an average annual power output of 9,600 GWh. But the Talatan PV Power Station isn’t just one of the world’s leading examples of how the future of renewable energy looks – it’s a case study of how solar farms can transform the geographic and economic prospects of an area.

Prior to the station’s construction, the region around the solar farm was grappling with desertification, sandstorms, and increasingly arid, barren land – all effects of climate change.

When Huanghe Hydropower began work on the Talatan PV Power Station in 2012, however, the company sowed grass to protect the solar panels from the harsh wind and sandstorms. 

Nurtured by run-off water from the washing of the solar panels, the grass grew, and – once it reached unsustainable levels – Huanghe introduced sheep, herded by local farmers, to maintain it. Now, a flock hundreds-strong walk the rows between the solar panels, while the opportunities the Talatan PV Power Station has provided have rejuvenated a previously declining region.

It’s a pleasant, pertinent reminder that solar farms can work as a positive feedback loop – imbuing its local communities not only with electricity, but with a new lease of life.

2. Bhadla Solar Park, India

Located in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan in the northwest of India, close to the border with Pakistan, is the Bhadla Solar Park.

The Bhadla Solar Park, inits sun-soaked position – the middle of the Thar Desert – enjoys around 300 sunny days per year. (With the Rajasthan region also observing an average of 5.72 kWh per m2 of solar irradiation per day, the conditions are ideal.)

Work began on the Bhadla Solar Park in 2015 and completed in 2020. However, plans are underway to expand the solar farm’s size and scope, and its total 2023 capacity – 2,245 MW, or enough to power 4.5 million Indian households – is projected to reach 3,500 MW within the next few years, as more farms are added. 

Sprawling over 56 km2 of land, the Bhadla Solar Park contains 10 million solar panels and the electricity they generate helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 4 million tonnes per year. This will be crucial to India’s pursuit of its 2030 target to generate 40 per cent of its total energy needs from renewable sources.

Given that around three-quarters of India’s electricity currently comes from burning coal – and the fact that, at the time of writing, 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world were located in India – solar farms such as the Bhadla Solar Park will only become more instrumental.

3. Pavagada Solar Park, India

Laying claim to three of the largest solar parks in the world, everything that makes portions of India unlivable – the swelteringly hot conditions and large swathes of uninhabited desert, for example – also makes it well-suited for solar farms. And the Pavagada Solar Park is just one example of how India is at the vanguard of the world’s charge to a more renewable future.

Also known as ‘Shakti Sthala’, Pavagada spans 53 km2 of otherwise barren, drought-prone land in the Tumkur district of Karnataka in central India. Built at a cost of £1.7 billion, the Pavagada Solar Park, fuelled by its largely rainless location in a semi-arid tract, has a capacity of 2,050 MW in clean, green energy. (Almost four times that of the largest functioning solar farm in the US.)

4. Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, United Arab Emirates

Stretching across 77 km2 of land in Saih Al-Dahal – around 50km south of Dubai, the UAE’s largest city – is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. 

Boasting a current capacity of 2,427 MW, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is still growing. The solar farm’s multi-phase construction model saw Phase 1 completed in 2013 and, at the time of writing, Phase IV and V are both underway. When completed, the solar farm, which has already seen around $13.6 billion (£10.6 billion) invested, is expected to reach a staggering 5,000 MW capacity by 2030.

Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park already provides renewable electricity for 270,000 Emirati homes, while negating the emission of around 1.18 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. That said, the UAE does, as a country, still have plenty of ground to make up when it comes to emissions.

In 2022, the UAE registered an average PM2.5 concentration of 48.9 μg/m³, indicating extremely polluted air, while Dubai, a short drive from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, was the second-most polluted city in the world as of IQAir’s October 2023 live rankings. (The most polluted, but only just, was Delhi.)

So yes, the UAE has work to do, but pouring resources into an ambitious, expansive solar farm – and setting a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 – are excellent places to start.

5. Benban Solar Park, Egypt

Situated in the Aswan Governorate in Egypt’s east – but visible from space – the Benban Solar Park is Africa’s largest solar project. Its capacity of 1,650 MW equates to an annual output of around 3.8 TWh – enough to light almost four million homes for a year.

Launched in 2018 and built for an estimated $4 billion, the Benban Solar Park comprises 41 separate solar plots spanning over 37 km2 of land. The project is part of the North African country’s Nubian Suns Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program aimed at encouraging local commercial investment in clean energy initiatives. And, more broadly, feed into Egypt’s climate promise to reduce electricity sector emissions by 33 per cent.

The Benban Solar Park is an excellent step for Egypt, and for Africa at large – particularly because the lion’s share of the continent stands to be disproportionately affected by the climate emergency’s ongoing ravages. You can read more about the countries that will survive climate change – and the nations less well-equipped to do so – in our article.

6. Tengger Desert Solar Park, China

Take a stroll past the outskirts of Zhongwei – a city in Ningxia, an autonomous region in northwestern China – and you may come across the Tengger Desert Solar Park.

Built on 43 km2 of land and with a capacity of 1,547 MW, the Tengger Desert Solar Park joins several Chinese heavy-hitters – Talatan PV Power Station, Jinchuan Solar Park, and Golmud CPV Solar Park – in showcasing the country’s razor-sharp renewable energy focus.

That said, China’s burgeoning network of solar farms isn’t without its issues. Like the Tengger Desert Solar Park, a large portion of China’s solar farms are in the northwest, where the population is small and demand for power, thus, smaller.

The problem? That most of China’s citizens reside in the east and transmitting energy across these large expanses of distance is difficult. This has forced China into shedding electricity it’s produced through its solar farms (a process called curtailment) – at times by as much as a third of its total supply.

What’s more, Bloomberg reports that over half of China’s solar manufacturers could be “forced out” in the next two to three years due to the country’s solar overcapacity woes – leading to a wave of bankruptcies and job losses. This all implies that, while renewable energy is always a force for good, it must be managed at scale, and in a way that takes into account logistical and geographical concerns.

7. Kalyon Karapinar Solar Power Plant, Turkey

Turkey’s contribution to the world’s solar efforts, the Kalyon Karapinar Solar Power Plant houses 1,350 MW of clean electricity – making it the largest single source of solar power in the sun-drenched Eurasian country. Following the examples of the solar powerhouses of India and China to its east, Turkey lays down the gauntlet for the countries to its west and, at the time of writing, Kalyon Karapinar is the largest solar farm in Europe.

Located in Konya province in central Turkey (around a three-hour drive from the capital, Ankara), Kalyon Karapinar covers around 20 km2 of once-agricultural, now-desertified land. The solar farm contains 3.5 million solar panels, which – after the first ones went operational in 2020 – are, as of 2023, all up and running.

Kalyon Karapinar is projected to produce 2,300 GWh of electricity every year – enough to supply almost two million Turkish households with clean, guilt-free energy. 

8. NP Kunta, India

NP Kunta (short for the slightly over-the-top ‘NP Kunta Ultra Mega Solar Park’, also known by the names of ‘Ananthapuram’ and ‘Kadiri’) is based in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It also cost around 150 billion Indian rupees (£1.48 billion), making it India’s second-most expensive solar farm. (The country’s most expensive is Pavagada, at 165 billion rupees, or £1.63 billion; Bhadla is third with 140 billion rupees, or £1.38 billion.)

Occupying around 32 km2 of arid land, NP Kunta began life in 2016 with a modest capacity of 200 MW. But, as energy companies began commissioning extra space at the park, the capacity soon ballooned – and NP Kunta’s capacity is expected to top 1,500 MW.

Along with other prominent India solar farms – including Bhadla, Pavagada, and Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park, which has a 1,000 MW capacity – NP Kunta feeds into India’s pledge to meet 50 per cent of its electricity requirements from renewable sources by 2030 and, by 2070, reach net-zero emissions.

9. Noor Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Despite being one of the planet’s biggest climate change culprits (the UAE emitted a colossal 218.8 million metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in 2022 alone, and its citizens are among the world’s worst offenders in terms of per-capita emissions), the UAE is surprisingly proactive when it comes to renewable energy, with its solar farms make up 20 per cent of the world’s top 10.

Based in Sweihan, Noor Abu Dhabi (‘Noor’ means light in Arabic, and Abu Dhabi is the city – the UAE’s capital – near the site of the solar farm) is the UAE’s second-largest solar farm in the country, and lays claim to being the world’s largest standalone solar plant.

Built at a cost of $870 million, the farm’s 1,200 MW capacity enables it to produce around 1,000 MW of clean power annually. This equates to a carbon footprint reduction of a million metric tonnes per year; or is, put into perspective, like taking 200,000 cars off the road.

Equipped with over 3.3 million solar panels spread out across 8 km2, Noor Abu Dhabi is (at least relative to many of the other of the largest solar farms profiled here) compact. That said, Noor Abu Dhabi is still vast enough that it requires 1,430 waterless cleaner robots to keep the solar panels in good nick – each of which travels 800 km every day on its travels.

10. Escatron-Chiprana-Samper Solar Park, Spain

No one can resist a bit of Spanish sun – especially when, as in the case of the Escatron-Chiprana-Samper Solar Park, it’s powering thousands of local homes.

Located near the northeastern Spanish city of Zaragoza in the Aragon region, Spain’s (and Europe’s second) largest solar farm is actually a collection of 18 plants spanning 31 km2. It has an 850 MW capacity, although ongoing work means that’s expected to reach 900 MW in 2023.

The Escatron-Chiprana-Samper Solar Park’s prominence isn’t an outlier, but part of a strong Spanish trend towards solar power. Despite wind still being the most relied-upon renewable resource in the Iberian country, Spain’s solar capacity has tripled over the last three years; and, in 2022, surpassed 19 MW – an increase of around 25 per cent from 2021’s figures (Statista).

In summary

If we continue down the path of we’re on – the road from climate change to climate crisis; to a first inhospitable, then uninhabitable earth – we’ll trap more and more of the sun’s heat in our atmosphere until it scorches our earth and burns our forests.

But the sun isn’t the enemy – our own habits are. And, while the wrong decisions will lead to the cooking of our planet, the right ones can harness the sun’s energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. And, hopefully, help us engineer some way out of the climate crisis.

This is why solar power is so important – not only on a grand, global scale, but on a small one. The solar farms we’ve discussed here are all playing their role in scoping out a future where our energy sector (which, right now, accounts for the emission of around 37.12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year) doesn’t have to be a blot on our environment. Or our conscience.

But you can play a role, too. Find out more about solar panels, crunch the numbers of how much solar panels will cost you to fit at your home, and browse the best solar panel installers.

It doesn’t have to be one of the world’s largest; it doesn’t even have to be the largest on your street. But your own private solar farm could be the start of something special.

Frequently asked questions about solar farms

Often, the terms ‘solar farm’ and ‘solar park’ are used interchangeably and, by and large, they can be. However, there are some subtle differences that can differentiate how these terms are applied. A solar farm, for instance, tends to be for purposes of electricity generation only. These are the types of facilities we’ve described – and profiled – above, where the sole function is to generate renewable electricity.

A solar park, however, can refer to a facility that incorporates extra features or amenities. These could include educational or recreational areas such as visitor centres or walking paths, Here, the solar panels are integrated into a larger, publicly accessible environment where the goal isn’t just generating energy – but entertainment, too.

There’s no ‘magic number’ when it comes to the land a solar farm requires to meet its capacity target. It depends on a number of things: including how efficient the solar panels are, the availability of sunlight, and even the technology used. (Whether fixed-tilt panels or those that travel with the light, for example.)

Another factor influencing the amount of land needed for a solar farm is, of course, the desired capacity. Solar farms tend to require around 0.02 to 0.04 km2 of land per MW of installed capacity. So, if a solar farm plans to have a capacity of 50 MW, it’ll require between 1 to 2 km2 of land.

Absolutely – solar farms are extremely eco-friendly. Because they derive their power from a sustainable source (the sun’s rays), solar farms don’t deplete natural resources, or – unlike coal, oil, and natural gas – contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, solar farms don’t release pollutants into the surrounding air and water, and (in contrast to fossil-fuel-reliant forms of electricity generation) have a minimal impact on local ecosystems and biodiversity.

Looking to be more eco-friendly yourself? Solar panels don’t have to be relegated to the world’s largest solar farms alone. Depending on your domestic setup, you might be able to add them to your own home – and benefit from the reduced carbon footprint and cheaper, more sustainable electricity solar panels provide.

For more details – and to learn more about incorporating renewable energy into your own daily life – explore our guide to how to be eco-friendly.

Rob Binns

Writer

Rob is an experienced writer and editor, with a wide range of experience in many topics, including renewable energy and appliances, home security, and business software. He has written for Eco Experts, Home Business, Expert Market, Payments Journal, and Yahoo! Finance. . 

Rob has a passion for smart home technology, online privacy, as well as the environment and renewables, which leads him to the Independent Advisor where he writes about related topics, including cyber security, VPNs, and solar power.

amy

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.