204: China’s Solar Power Progress – A Bright Spot?


Matt and Sean talk about China’s Kubuqi Desert solar panel base and expanding solar power generation. Is this a step in the right direction?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, China’s MASSIVE Desert Project Is About To Change The World https://youtu.be/MX_PeNzz-Lw?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4At-R_1s6-_50PCbYsoEcj

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On today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to be talking about flipping the script, which is a phrase I came up with on my own very proudly. And then as I listened to Matt’s most recent episode, he also used the phrase flipping the script. So apparently Matt and I are both of the same mind or maybe we’re the same person.

I’m very tired. Who am I? I’m Sean Ferrell. I write. Some sci fi, I write some stuff for kids. And I’m just generally curious about technology. And luckily for me, my brother is that, Matt. of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. And today we’re going to be talking about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about a power plant development in China and their expanding solar production.

But before we get into that, Matt, how are you today?

I’m doing well. I, I actually got a, I’m going to be making a video about this coming up in the channel. So it does pertain to what we’re talking about. Uh, the new Apple vision pro and I’m wearing it strapped to my face for way too long. Um, so many thoughts, Sean, so many, so many thoughts.

Um, I’m, I’m really eager to make a video about it. Cause it’s, it’s. It’s one of those things where you can tell where the future is going, but is the future here today? The short answer is no, but it’s very impressive.

It’ll be interesting to chat about that as we get around to your video.

And I also remember last night you sent me a text regarding an experiment that you want to conduct with the goggles. And I don’t know what that experiment is going to entail, but I know I’m going to be involved in some fashion. So looking forward to that. So, listeners and viewers, tune back in to see what it is that Matt plugs into my brain.

Now on to our current discussion. We wanted to talk about Matt’s most recent episode, which is China’s massive desert project is about to change the world. This is his episode from January 30th, 2024, and it focuses on It’s the Kabuqi Desert. Am I saying that right? Is it Kabuqi like the theater in Japan, but it’s a different


Yes. As far as I’m aware, a white guy in the Northeast of the United States, it’s Kabuqi. I could

be wrong. So the Kabuqi Desert, uh, the solar plant, which is going to dwarf the production of most other solar production. Sites in the world and is only the first of many planned out. And it’s the result of a number of threads of recent history fed into the development of this.

Some of them seem like critical failures. On the part of the power system, the network of power supply in China. And I’m curious in your research, did you see anything about how it takes critical failure to push? Production forward in these ways and in new ways, as opposed to, well, things are stable enough.

We don’t need to invest in that kind of infrastructure right now. Have you been, has that, is that something that’s occurred to you as you’ve been doing your research? Or is that something you’ve seen in the research itself? That sometimes it takes the, oh God, we’re not able to actually do what we want to do in order to force movement forward.

Unfortunately. Like, in this exact research, like when my team was looking into it, we didn’t see something specific like that. Um, in China’s case, it didn’t seem like it was, oh, they have these blackouts, that’s why they’re doing this. It’s just like one tiny piece of a larger puzzle for why they’re doing it.

Um. But like you can, there’s examples here in the U. S. of sections of the country that are not going into renewables the way you’d expect them to because the current system, it’s working fine. Why would we spend all that money doing this, these changes? It’s just working fine. It’s going to work fine until suddenly it’s not working fine and then you’re going to be kind of stuck.

So you do see this kind of thing happen when you look into Why states like Arizona are not just swathed in solar panels, right? There’s some short sighted thinking that’s kind of slowing down adoption. That tide is shifting. Um, so you do see it in pockets, but I wouldn’t say for China specifically in the video, when we were putting this together, that came out as Like something like a big, like red warning light that was like obvious in the research at all.

I would imagine that it took longer to build the plant than it would have been the recent pandemic related power shutdown that I, they didn’t build this in a year. This is something that’s been in development for a while, correct? I

mean, they did build it really fast, but at the same time, this was in motion before the blackout.

But it’s, it’s when you look at all the stuff, uh, when you think about like energy independence is a massive part of the story here. China is heavily dependent on other countries in the world because they are the largest consumer of coal. And most of the coal comes in from outside. A lot of oil comes in from outside.

They are heavily dependent on their neighbors and suppliers for their energy needs. They’re not in control of their own destiny. So just from that alone, China was kind of eyeballing, like, we have to get more of this under our own control to be able to manage ourselves. So we’re not dependent on Russia.

We’re not dependent on Saudi Arabia. They’re trying to cut that back as much as they can, um, which is what I think every country. Aspires to, they want to be more independent so that people can’t use that as a leverage against you. Right. So it’s, it’s something we see here in the U S as well. So that I think is the bigger motivation for China.

It seems also that kind of deft move towards something that, you know, since the dawn of mankind, man has dreamed of extinguishing the sun is a line from. One of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, uh, the sun’s not going away, no matter what a movie like The Wandering Earth would have you believe. The reality around other modes of power supply, I’m thinking about the recent discoveries of how devastating the drought in California.

And the Southwest actually is. Rivers now don’t reach the same distances that they used to. Uh, there was recently a story about one farm in particular that was using a massive amount of a water supply chain in California. And I couldn’t help but wonder, there was nothing in the news about this, but I couldn’t help but wonder, how long before these drought issues start to impact hydroelectric?

If you end up with a river being impacted by drought, you’re suddenly going to find yourself on the short end of one renewable source that you thought you could depend on indefinitely. So the ability to be nimble in the way that the Chinese government seems to have demonstrated, and this is not, I mean, similar to your Episode, this is not a geopolitical channel.

This is not like me endorsing, you know, communist China or, or how they operate, uh, and the wide array of, of issues around the, uh, Chinese nation. But there is a kind of positive to the nimble movement that we’re seeing here. And if you were to say the ability to not only produce power for themselves, but to put power out for other nations and what they’re trying to do by creating trade blocks.

Do you see the trade block development expanding into exporting this new mode of energy production? Because if they are currently creating those trade blocks in order to get the resources they need to create power, but now they’re creating power in a different way, do you think the trade blocks break down or do you think they shift them to actually saying, Hold on now, why don’t we build power plants of this design in your neck of the woods?

Why don’t we, like, do you see them doing that kind of thing? Or do you think there’s going to be a fundamental shift in what they

need? From what I’ve seen, and my team has seen, it looks like it’s a little bit of all of the above. Um, There’s a little bit of like, um, an innovator’s dilemma, kind of like you see in a lot of the tech space, not even energy, just general consumer tech.

It’s like you have a company that’s an established thing and they see this new technology coming up, but it could disrupt what they’re currently doing and what they’re doing is working great. So why are we going to change? Why are we going to damage our cash cow by doing this thing? So we’re just going to kind of hunker down.

And then here comes the little guy from the side and goes, Ooh, there’s something there. And they triple, quadruple down on it. And before you know it, after a decade goes by, they’re now the big dog. You’re going out of business because you got blinders on and you weren’t thinking long term. You were thinking short term.

That’s something we’re seeing a lot. In the energy space right now, and China is like that innovator. They’re coming in and they’re being very disruptive. And like we saw flipping the script, I, they, it does look like they’re trying to do a little bit of everything. So they’ll probably produce so much energy.

They can like create high power, you know, high tension power lines that go into neighboring countries. And they’re literally just sending electrons into other countries and literally supplying their power. Then there’s going to be The giving the technology, the solar panels, like we’re gonna give this to you at a bargain, you know, we’ll come in there, we’ll help you build this stuff out for yourself.

But you’re going to sign this contract and you’re going to be giving us access to your, you know, cobalt mines. You’re going to be giving us access to this X, Y, and Z. There’s going to be a lot of leverage used here on China’s behalf of where they’ll basically come in and build an incredible infrastructure for a country to produce their own energy, but there’s going to be a lot of strings attached.

So I think they’re gonna be doing a lot of all of that because what that does is it gives them incredible. Like again, not a geopolitics channel, but it’s going to give them a lot of leverage for their neighbors and wherever they’re doing that kind of a thing. So it gives them more sway around the world.

And that is definitely something that China is trying to do. So like we talked about, like. There’s a lot of bad stuff that comes with what China’s doing, but you kind of strip that away. What they’re doing, the actual technology they’re implementing, what they’re doing, there’s a lot we can learn from about how they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, because there’s a lot of benefit that we can reap from that around the world.


curious, too, about their relationship with their neighbor, India, which, of course, an incredibly large nation in population and with its own kinds of power demands. And, uh, I’m curious, do you have plans on your channel to do similar research into developing power plans in India and how they may interface or be independent of?

What China is doing. Yeah. Well, actually

I do have some videos. I haven’t like done a video on India, but I’ve done videos on solar canals, putting solar panels above waterways. India is like blazing a trail on that. They’re being very innovative about how they’re implementing their solar technology in areas where it’s not going to be, um, Disruptive to the land in a way where you’re not like clear cutting a huge area of land just to put up solar panels across the ground.

Yeah, they’re doing it in areas where there’s this cross benefits by putting it where they’re putting it and supplying small towns and villages with their own power supply. They’re being very, very bullish on that. So there’s a lot to talk about there. I made a video where I kind of touched on them and what they’re doing there.

They also have this one sun, one global power supply vision. That, me personally, it’s like I haven’t made a video about that specifically, but I’ve touched on that concept in a couple other videos. My thinking on that is, that’s just a pie in the sky, that’s never going to happen. It’s just, no. But the basic concept is, you basically build high power lines, high tension power lines, or like high, like really like high voltage power lines around the world, and then you basically, Wrap all the countries around the equator with solar panels, and then no matter what side of the earth is facing the sun, they’re generating enough power to power supply everybody else.

And so it’s like, you’re basically sharing it all. It’s like, it’s this wonderful utopian vision of the future of the world. It is a beautiful,

it’s a beautiful utopian vision.

Politics will never let that happen. Period. Second thing is, just the logistics of the high voltage power lines, you’d need to do that.

There’s so much energy loss with, This kind of transfer of power over long distances, there’s downsides and challenges to it. Like, we wouldn’t be able to make enough cable to do this. It just, it, it’s not going to happen. It doesn’t make sense. Um, but you could do it in pockets. So it’s like India is looking at it from that point of view of like, what if they were kind of the, the belt and suspenders for that region of the world.

So they’re doing things very similar to what China’s doing, but China has, I think the deeper pockets, the, um, deeper motivations. So they’re moving at light speed where India is still kind of like at a slow trot, but they are definitely, definitely going that direction too.

That’s interesting. There were some comments that I wanted to point out, uh, like this one from Doddly who jumped in to say, for all those who are complaining about covering desert land with solar panels, I’ll go as far as to say it increases biodiversity in the desert biome by offering shade to desert animals.

All the buildings in the world are covering the earth’s surface as well. Why aren’t people complaining about that? When it’s China, it’s an issue. The surface area of China is about 9 million square miles, an eight square mile. Patch is negligible. So this is raising an interesting point that we tend to think in terms of, I know I do this.

Oh, if you’re going to make a lot of power, it must be huge, eight square miles. Like if that’s two miles by four miles, like that’s. Not that big. There are city parks that are that size. So that’s a positive in my book. There was also this from Craig Russell who jumped in to say, for those commenting about all the water needed to clean the solar panels, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories estimate that a typical 500 megawatt coal fired utility that burns 250 tons of coal per hour also uses 12 million gallons of water an hour.

We’re 300 million gallons a day for cooling. It’s interesting how people will cherry pick a detail of something new in order to deflate it without understanding how their cherry picked information might relate to the things that they’re defending.

It’s, it’s all about perspective and context. I mean, you take something out of context and you look at it like, like the comment about the square footage, the square mileage of these things.

It’s like, Okay, maybe as a person standing on the ground that looks absolutely massive, but then you go up into the sky or into space and it’s like, it’s like a pixel size amount of space. So you start to get different perspective on what it actually is and the amount of water. See comments like that all the time.

And solar panels like, Oh, this making a solar panel puts this much pollution on the environment. Well, have you compared that to how much pollution is put in the environment for drilling for oil and then burning it? Have you looked into how much, you know, like when you take it out of context and you’re looking at just that one thing, it looks like it might be damming, but then you look at how much better it is than the other things around it and it becomes clear as day.

Oh no, no, we should be doing that. Yeah. It’s still pollutes or it still has this issue or it still uses a lot of water, but. Compared to that statistic of how much water a coal power plant uses, it’s astonishing. It’s like, it’s going to be a literal drop in the bucket compared to that. So perspective and context

is key.

One last note, this one from Dominique Redoux, who said, If memory serves, Northern China is also the location of large refining plants for aluminum and other metals. They do require large amounts of energy that is now mostly green. Also, they are currently installing ultra high voltage power lines. Once they are finished, the transmission loss will be greatly reduced, and lots of the coal plants will become redundant.

That’s an aspect of this that I think is interesting. And we’ll be able to see in the future more, will we be looking at more small solar plants around the world, or will we be looking at more isolated, larger solar plants, but with better transmission over greater distances? I don’t know which way it will go, but it will be impacts like this where Perhaps multiple coal plants shut down as a result of one solar plant is a positive in my book.

One other thing I’d want to bring up is one of my patrons because I put these videos up early for my patrons. Um, one of them had feedback on this where we’re at the end of the video, I brought up how there’s some questions around the green aspect of China because they’ve green lit all these new coal plants that are going to be coming online over the next few years.

And one of my patrons raised, but we don’t know the specifics as to why they’re being greenlit because a lot of those could be replacements for old coal, coal power plants. Like it’s not that it’s additive, it might be replacing a bunch and then there’s other aspects that it could be replacing different, more polluting style of coal, uh, power plants.

So these are actually still stepping in the right direction. So once again, that perspective and context came into play and I thought that was a really good comment from one of my patrons. Yeah. Have you had

any. Uh, episode plans around new developments in coal plants to take a look at, is a plant in the 60s being replaced by a plant now going to be a better plant?

The clean coal argument. I

I have not. There were episodes I did on carbon capture where I talked about, uh, coal power plants and things like that specifically because some of this carbon capture technology is implement that’s how they some in some cases that’s how they make, quote, green or cleaner coal power plants, is they’re capturing some of the off gassing and literally cleaning it out of the air before it gets evacuated.

So It’s in existence. So yes, coal power plants today are definitely cleaner than they were 50 years ago, for sure, but they are still incredibly dirty and incredibly polluting. So even with these green coal power plants, they’re still not green, but it’s, it’s definitely, it’s at least a step in the right direction ish.

Right. Kinda. Sort of like getting off of heroin by getting addicted to Yeah. Cocaine. It’s

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