Soaking Up Sun in the Thar Desert

Soaking Up Sun in the Thar Desert

Scorching temperatures, infertile soils, limited water supplies, and frequent wind storms make the Phalodi township in India’s Thar desert an inhospitable place to live. Yet the abundance of open space and sunshine make this remote part of western Rajasthan an ideal place for harvesting solar power.

Construction of the Bhadla Solar Park, near India’s border with Pakistan, began to appear in satellite imagery in 2015. Now millions of solar photovoltaic panels blanket Phalodi, giving a metallic look to landscapes that were once sandy and brown. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this natural-color satellite image of the park on January 26, 2022.

Bhadla Solar Park spreads across more than 5700 hectares (22 square miles), an area about one-third the size of Washington, D.C. It has a total capacity of 2245 megawatts, among the largest solar parks in the world. Its presence recently helped Rajasthan overtake Karnataka as the Indian state with the largest installed solar capacity, according to Mercomm India.

Though the area’s consistently clear skies mean sunlight is abundant, frequent dust storms pose an engineering challenge because they coat the panels with layers of minerals and sand that hamper electricity production. Some operators have chosen to unleash thousands of cleaning robots on the panels, a tactic designed to cut manual labor needs and reduce the amount of water required for cleaning. Some recent research suggests that Landsat imagery could assist such systems by helping companies identify dust buildup and optimize cleaning operations.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Adam Voiland.

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