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Can a panda-shaped solar power plant boost popularity of renewable energy?

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[Image above] Aerial drone photo of the Datong Panda Power Plant. Credit: UNDP

Advances in materials are the key to some of the incredible advances in harnessing solar power in the recent past—advances that have improved efficiency and reduced costs enough to allow output from U.S. solar power installations to grow seventeen-fold since 2008.

That’s significant capacity—enough to power more than 5.7 million typical homes in the U.S.—but it’s still not enough.

In total, renewables currently only contribute to about 15% of electricity generation in the U.S., while natural gas and coal still account for almost 65%.

It’s not a question of ability. With current technology, solar panels could provide the world’s entire energy needs.

But market barriers and integration challenges persist, and advances in the technology—the materials—are key to continue increasing efficiency and reducing costs even further to allow solar and other renewable energy sources to outcompete their competitors in terms of actual incorporation to meet the world’s energy needs.

So in a fresh effort to boost the visibility of its renewable energy efforts, China is turning to one of its most beloved creatures—the panda bear.

Panda Green Energy Group Ltd. recently announced that it has connected its latest solar power plant, cutely shaped into the likeness of its namesake, to the electricity grid.

The panda-shaped solar power plant, located on 246 acres in Datong, China, currently has a capacity of 50 MW. But the solar panda won’t be alone for long—the company has plans to soon add another panda to the solar farm, doubling its capacity to 100 MW.

According to the company, “A 100 MW Panda Power Plant can provide 3.2 billion kWh of green electricity in 25 years, equivalent to saving 1.056 million tons of coal, or reduce 2.74 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”

The Datong panda pair—built from a combination of dark monocrystalline silicon cells and lighter thin film solar cells—are the first of a whole parade of around 100 solar pandas planned for China and around the world, according an article on Vox.

Panda Green Energy is pairing up with the United Nations Development Program to use the cute critters as clean energy ambassadors in a global promotion program directed at youth to inspire interest in green energy.

China is already leading the world in renewable energy initiatives, and marketing and promotional pushes like this are a key component of swaying opinions, investments, decisions, and dollars towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels.

Because in addition to research advances, the entire infrastructure needs to change for renewable energy to be able to replace humans’ old polluting ways.

Those ways our changing our world, with drastic outcomes on our climate and environment.

When you think of climate change, large spewing industrial smokestacks might come to mind. But it’s not just massive industries that are having an effect—our disposable culture, love of plastic, and apathy towards recycling is drastically threatening our wellbeing.

Author David Wallace-Wells writes in an alarming article in New York Magazine, “Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.”

Change is needed—and it’s going to take more than 100 pandas.