Faced with massive population growth, melting ice caps and the need to own an ever-increasing number of gadgets, the world needs to find sustainable solutions.
And it needs to find them quickly, to meet our energy needs for today and tomorrow.
Luckily, far-sighted engineers and government officials are already taking the action required as these 10 great green projects hopefully prove...
1. Qaidam Basin PV, China
Announced in January 2009, the Qaidam Basin solar farm in north-west China will eventually be the world's biggest, generating up to 1GW of on-grid electricity, although the initial phase - due to begin construction this year - will shoot for a more modest 30MW. But as ambitious as the Qaidam Basin project undoubtedly is, its peak energy capacity is just a fraction of what China's coal-fired power stations produced in 2006 - some 90GW, according to EcoGeek. At least it's a step in the right direction.
2. Markbygden, Sweden
With 1,101 turbines located over 450 square kilometres, the Markbygden wind farm will be one of the world's largest when it goes on stream in 2020. It needs to be. Sweden plans to produce 50 per cent of all its energy needs by then through the use of renewables, and Markbydgen will produce 8 per cent of the total. Currently awaiting approval by the Swedish government, the €5-billion farm will eventually produce 12TWh of energy per year.
3. Three Gorges Project, China
This hydroelectric dam will be the world's biggest when it's complete in 2011, producing 22,500MWh of earth-friendly electricity. However the 39.3km3 dam has also been mired in controversy from the outset, causing the displacement of over 1.2 million people and untold environmental damage. Experts have also warned that the Three Gorges dam's position on a series of seismic faults could also trigger a catastrophic earthquake. However, the Three Gorges dam will also remove some 100 million tonnes of CO2 and 2 million tonnes of SO2 that would otherwise have been generated by coal-fired power stations - and the Chinese authorities have finally wised up to the dam's negative aspects, taking steps to ameliorate them.
[Photo credit: Tim Salmon, Flickr]
4. Acciona Amareleja (Moura) PV plant, Portugal
Completed last year, this solar farm is currently the world's biggest, producing 93 million KWh of electricity per year, enough for 30,000 Portuguese households. The 45MW plant - built and run by energy company Acciona Solar - is the latest in a long line of sustainable energy projects being constructed in Portugal, which has few natural resources aside from an over-abundance of sunshine.
5. Siadar Wave Energy Project, Hebrides
Given the UK's status as an island nation, you'd think our shores would be awash with wave farms - power stations that harness the power of the sea to generate energy. Although that's not quite the case, there are signs that we are catching on, with the Siadar Wave Energy Project (SWEP) being just one great example. Jointly developed by the Scottish government and wave energy experts Wavegen, SWEP will produce 4MW of electricity when it's complete in 2011 - enough to power 1,800 Scottish homes on the Western Isles of Lewis and Harris. The plant will be part of a wider Scottish initiative that aims to produce 5.5GW of energy using renewables.
6. Leyte Geothermal Field, Philippines
A natural abundance of 'hot rocks' has turned the Philippines into the second biggest geothermal producer in the world, generating gigawatts of electricity cheaply and sustainably. Leyte, which produces 708MW of electricity, is the biggest of five geothermal fields in the country - the total output of which is enough to meet 28 per cent of The Philippines' energy needs. [via Enerlix]
7. Topaz Solar Farm, San Luis Obispo County, California
Portugal's Moura project maybe the biggest solar farm right now, but it looks like it won't stay that way for long. Due to open in 2012-13 is a 550MW facility 100 miles north of Los Angeles, which will have enough photovoltaic cells to generate sustainable electricity for over 190,000 US homes. The 9.5 square mile facility will join several others commissioned by Pacific Gas & Energy, which aims to produce 3,600MW by sustainable means.
The Topaz Solar Farm in California will use a photovoltaic array, similar to the ones pictured here at Nellis Air Force Base.
8. Sevilla PV, Sanlúcar la Mayor, Spain
This solar farm near Seville, Spain, has to be one of the most breathtaking in Europe. It comprises an array of 600 steel mirrors that redirect the sunlight to the top of a 115m solar tower. There, water vapour is turned into steam, which then drives turbines that generate enough electricity to power 6,000 homes. Abengoa Solar, the company which runs the facility, says the technology used in the project is actually very simple. Its aim is for the 1.2MW farm to eventually generate enough energy to power 600,000 homes.
9. Maglev wind turbines, erm, anywhere?
Another project that could quite literally take your breath away is the maglev wind turbine. In a nutshell, a maglev wind turbine replaces the ball bearings found in traditional designs with neodymium full-permanent magnets. The result is that the turbines only need very low levels of wind power to turn, and can also produce vast quantities of electricity - up to 2GW per turbine, compared to the 5MW available on the biggest turbines now. Inhabitat says production of maglev wind turbines is already underway in China, with more being made by US company Maglev Wind Turbine Technologies.
10. Babcock Ranch, Florida
Currently awaiting approval, Babcock Ranch is a 19,500-dwelling solar city that will also be home to one of the largest photovoltaic energy generators - producing 75MW of electricity. US developer Kitson & Partners says that will enable the city to be a net contributor to the Sunshine State's energy needs, even if Babcock Ranch inhabitants will still need to rely on conventional heat and light sources once the sun goes down. [via Engadget]
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