Zero-Carbon Tarim Desert Road powers environmental progress in China

North-west China’s Tarim Desert Road has reached a significant milestone by generating over 5 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity through solar power.

The Tarim Desert Road, traversing the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has achieved a groundbreaking zero-carbon status through an extensive solar power project. This transformation, led by PetroChina’s Tarim Oilfield, aims to replace traditional diesel-powered irrigation systems with solar energy, marking a significant step towards environmental sustainability and desertification control.

Constructed in 1995, the 566-kilometre Tarim Desert Road significantly reduced the travel distance between Urumqi and Hotan by 500 kilometres. It cuts through the Taklamakan, the world’s second-largest shifting-sand desert, which poses significant challenges in terms of road maintenance and environmental sustainability​ ​.

To protect the road from being swallowed by the desert sands, a 436-kilometre-long shelterbelt, consisting of 20 million trees and shrubs, was established on both sides of the highway in 2005. Initially, 86 diesel-powered well stations provided the necessary water for irrigation. However, these systems were not only inefficient but also contributed to significant carbon emissions and were unable to provide a consistent energy supply​.

In January 2022, a transformative project was launched to convert all diesel-powered generators along the road to photovoltaic systems. This initiative involved setting up 86 solar power stations, which now generate over 5 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity. The switch to solar power is estimated to save more than 1,000 tons of diesel annually and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 3,410 tons each year​ (​​ ​.