For centuries, traders along the Silk Road relied on the oasis at Dunhuang for a reprieve from the withering sunlight and heat of the Gobi desert. By 2011, a large solar farm on the outskirts of the city had started transforming that searing light into an energy resource for the region.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth-Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this series of images showing the installation of solar power panels on the outskirts of Dunhuang in the Gansu province of western China. In 2006 (top image), barren desert dominated, except for the road and a few patches of agricultural fields (lower right). By 2011 (middle image), grids of photovoltaic panels began to appear in large numbers. By 2012 (lower image), thousands of square meters were covered.

China’s State Development & Investment Corporation and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) began construction in the area in August 2009, according to China Daily. Two 10-megawatt (.01 gigawatt) facilities were opened by July 2010, making the site China’s first large-scale solar power station.
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Earth Observatory, February 2013