LANZHOU, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- On the southern fringes of the Tengger Desert, the fourth largest desert in China, a sea of photovoltaic panels glinted blue in the sun.
While watering desert plants underneath the panels with a height of 4 meters in a photovoltaic power base, Feng Xuexi, 62, said "it is amazing I can sometimes sit in the shade and enjoy the cool in the desert."
Feng, a villager in Ronghua Xincun Village of Wuwei City, northwest China's Gansu Province, recently started to work in the photovoltaic power base, which is located in the north of Wuwei.
As soon as Feng came there, he was surprised by the upgraded approach to desertification control, which integrates solar power generation, planting, breeding, and industrial tourism.
Wuwei is located in the southern edge of the Tengger Desert. Local people have spent decades of years fighting desertification.
Every spring and autumn, when the sand whirls frequently, Feng, together with his fellow villagers, will volunteer to join in the activities -- placing straw checkerboard barriers -- to battle the desertification.
In recent years, China has set its sights on new energy in the desert and Gobi areas and schemed to establish a series of large-scale wind power and photovoltaic bases in these areas.
Wuwei, therefore, catches the opportunity to transform abundant solar energy into green development potential. The photovoltaic power base where Feng is working is China's first batch of projects in desert areas.
Different from the floor stand of the traditional photovoltaic panel, the project in Wuwei uses cement columns to support a set of photovoltaic panels that spans 33 meters in length, according to Yin Heping with Elion Resources Group, which undertakes the construction of the project.
"In this way, we can improve power generation efficiency by 8 percent to 15 percent as well as reserve space for farm machinery," said Yin.
Yin also noted that they have installed a water-saving system consisting of drip and spray irrigation equipment and monitoring probes around the desert plants.
So far, the project has planted 80,000 pinus sylvestris and placed 21,000 mu (1,400 hectares) of straw and reed checkerboard barriers in the photovoltaic power station area.
"Some of the grass has grown to the height of my calves in two months, and it's hard to believe it can grow so rapidly in the desert," Feng said.
"Later, the output value per mu is expected to reach 4,000 yuan (about 558 U.S. dollars) as cistanche deserticola, a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, can be grafted on the desert plant rootstocks planted within the straw checkerboard," Yin said.
According to Sun Tao, a researcher at Gansu Desert Control Research Institute, developing the photovoltaic industry in the desert has positive effects on ecological protection, like collecting rainfall, reducing soil surface temperature, and improving soil moisture.
"People can take advantage of the improved soil to grow plants or cultivate poultry underneath the panels. There will be a win-win result of protecting the ecology while gaining revenues," Sun said.
After the completion of the project, it is expected to annually generate 900 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, saving 280,000 tonnes of standard coal and reducing 740,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, said Li Zhenhai, deputy director of the Wuwei municipal development and reform commission.