Concentrating Solar Power to light up by 2010 in China

The bidders are mainly from the country’s top power companies, including Huaneng and GD Power and their subsidiaries, the paper said.

The tender results will be announced by Aug 20, the newspaper said, citing a source from Yingli Energy (Beijing) Co Ltd, which planned to bid for four of the projects.

The open tender, launched in June this year, was for 13 photovoltaic power projects with a combined capacity of 280-megawatts (MW).

The projects include 60 MW each in Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia, 50 MW in Qinghai, 30 MW in Ningxia and 20 MW in Shaanxi province.

China to develop 13 solar power projects in western region

China, the world’s second-biggest energy user, plans to develop 13 solar power projects in the western region as part of a government aim to cut emissions and boost energy investment in the area.

The government is tendering for bids to develop the projects in six provinces, which will have a combined capacity of 280 megawatts, the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top planner, said in a statement on its website yesterday.

This is the second tender since the country opened bids to build a 10-megawatt solar power plant in Dunhuang in Gansu province last year. China wants the western region to become a base for energy production and processing of natural resources and aims to boost the share of non-fossil fuel in its primary energy consumption to 15 percent by 2020 to cut pollution.

The central government will invest in "key projects" in those areas to improve the economic well-being of the local people, President Wen Jiabao said in a statement yesterday, without identifying the provinces. Additional policies will also be implemented to support the development of the region, he said.

China aims to have an installed capacity of 20 gigawatts of solar units and 100 gigawatts of wind power by 2020, Zhang Guobao, head of the National Energy Administration, said in May.

China’s first Concentrating Solar Power plant began soliciting tenders on Wednesday as the country’s efforts to diversify its clean energy sources gathered pace.

The 50 megawatt solar thermal power plant will rise on uninhabited land of more than 100 hectares in Hangjinqi in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The tenders are scheduled to be opened on Jan 20, 2011. The China Machinery and Equipment International Tendering Co, Ltd is entrusted by the National Energy Administration to oversee the bidding process.

The project is estimated to cost about 1.6 billion yuan ($240.5 million) and will annually generate about 120 million kilowatt-hour of power, according to statistics from Inner Mongolia’s reform and development commission.

Solar thermal power plants use the sun heat to generate steam and drive turbines. The plants store heat during the day and use it to generate power at night, providing greater power supply stability than photovoltaic plants. In addition, solar thermal plants do not need the expensive solar panels. The production of solar panels also require significant amounts of energy.

Hangjinqi was chosen over other sites in Northwest China because it was closer to the grid and had sufficient sunlight and water supplies, said Li Rong, head of Hangjinqi’s investment promotion department, who has spent about five years working on the project. The project was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission in 2007.

The plant’s initial planning and feasibility report was written by Inner Mongolia STP Development Co Ltd, a joint venture between Inner Mongolia Lenon New Energy Liability Co Ltd and the German company, Solar Millennium AG.

Experts say the opening of the plant marks the beginning of China’s Concentrating Solar Power industry.

Solar thermal power plants have greater potential than photovoltaic power plants and may even challenge traditional thermal power plants. "China doesn’t want to lag behind in its development," said Wang Zhifeng, a researcher at the Institute of Electrical Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IEECAS).

Nevertheless, the project bears some criticisms. "The project is not large enough. The larger a solar thermal power plant is, the lower the cost for each kilowatt an hour of electricity generated," said Ma Shenghong, the other researcher at IEECAS. "Ideally, a solar thermal power plant needs to have a capacity of more than 200 megawatt."

But analysts say the current project could be a basis for future expansion.

Solar thermal energy is still in experimental stages in China. It faces the obstacles of low efficiency and high developing costs, said Luo Zhentao, an expert at the China Association of Rural Energy Industry.

More than 30 leading Chinese companies and research institutes in solar energy came together to form the National Alliance for Solar Thermal Energy, Ministry of Science and Technology, in October 2009.

The alliance is committed to building a 1,000 megawatt solar thermal power plant in West China between 2011 and 2015. IEECAS is building a one-megawatt solar thermal power plant in rural Beijing’s Badaling township. The experimental project, which costs 120 million yuan, is set to be completed by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Chinese research institutes, including some under Tsinghua University, are working on devices that can capture and store more heat, which will bring down the cost of solar thermal power plants and provide greater power stability.

As it moves rapidly to become the world’s leader in nuclear power, wind energy and photovoltaic solar panels, China is taking tentative steps to master another alternative energy industry: using mirrors to capture sunlight, produce steam and generate electricity.

So-called concentrating solar power uses hundreds of thousands of mirrors to turn water into steam. The steam turns a conventional turbine similar to those in coal-fired power plants. The technology, which is potentially cheaper than most types of renewable power, has captivated many engineers and financiers in the last two years, with an abrupt surge in new patents and plans for large power operations in Europe and the United States.

This year may be China’s turn. China is starting to build its own concentrating solar power plants, a technology more associated with California deserts than China’s countryside. And Chinese manufacturers are starting to think about exports, part of China’s effort to become the world’s main provider of alternative energy power equipment.

Yet concentrating solar power still faces formidable obstacles here, including government officials who are skeptical that the technology will be useful on a large scale in China.

Much of the country is cloudy or smoggy. Water is scarce. The sunniest places left for solar power are deserts deep in the interior, far from the energy-hungry coastal provinces that consume most of China’s electricity. Provinces deep in the interior have few skilled workers or engineers to maintain the automated gear that keeps mirrors focused on towers that transfer the heat from sunbeams into fluids.

Concentrating solar power “is not very suitable for China,” wrote Li Junfeng, a senior government energy policy maker, in a detailed e-mail reply to questions this week.

Yet the private sector in China is racing to embrace the technology anyway.

A California solar technology company and a Chinese power equipment manufacturer plan to sign a deal on Saturday for the construction of up to 2,000 megawatts of power plants using concentrating solar power over the next decade, executives from both companies said this week. That is equivalent to the output of a couple of nuclear power plants. They will start with a 92-megawatt plant in Yulin, a town in a semi-desert area of Shaanxi Province in central China.

The Chinese equipment manufacturer, Penglai Electric, hopes to work with other Chinese manufacturers to drive production costs down precipitously, clearing the way for exports, although these would require further approval from the California licensor of the technology, eSolar.

Eric Wang, the senior vice president for international business development at Penglai Electric, said that manufacturing mirrors, turbines, towers and other equipment in China instead of the United States could cut costs by at least half. That could make concentrating solar power more competitive with other forms of power generation around the world.

China’s Ministry of Science, the Beijing municipal government and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are already building Asia’s first concentrating solar power plant on the outskirts of Beijing, although it is only a pilot operation to generate 1.5 megawatts.

Preparations are also under way for the construction of a 50-megawatt concentrating solar power plant in Gansu Province in northwestern China, said Min Deqing, a renewable energy consultant in Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu.

But while nuclear power, wind energy and photovoltaic solar panels have strong backing from China’s political leaders and enormous financing by government-owned banks, concentrating solar power still faces deep-rooted skepticism in senior ranks of the government.

Unlike in the United States, the roots of that skepticism do not lie in concerns about disrupting the habitat of rare species in sunny, desert areas — a worry that may block some attempts to build concentrating solar power plants in the Mojave Desert.

Mr. Li wrote that concentrating solar power works best when cheap water, cheap land and lots of sun are available in the same place — a rare combination in China. Mr. Li also expressed concern that concentrating solar power would prove more expensive per kilowatt-hour generated than photovoltaic solar power, a technology in which China is already the world’s low-cost supplier.

Mr. Li has a lot of influence on these issues. He is a deputy director general for energy research at the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency in China. And he is the secretary general of the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, which helps oversee these industries’ operations in China.

But Mr. Li did say that he saw a limited role for concentrating solar power, particularly in places where it could be combined with other power plants, or where it could be combined with a way to store power overnight. Penglai and eSolar hope to do both.

Water consumption, mainly to condense the steam after it has been used to generate electricity, is another potential weakness of the technology. Water tends to be scarce in deserts, of course. Penglai and eSolar are leaning toward air cooling instead of water cooling, at the price of cutting the efficiency of their plant.

Mr. Gross said the eSolar technology could also be used to create extra heat during the day, with the heat being stored and used to generate power at night — a form of the electricity storage sought by Mr. Li.

Despite the government’s skepticism, renewable energy investors remain enthusiastic about the potential for concentrating solar power projects in China. K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a renewable energy investment fund in Beijing, said that he had been looking at such deals in recent months after concluding that the valuations for photovoltaic solar projects were unreasonably high, possibly because that technology had such strong government backing.

Both photovoltaic power and solar thermal power plants have their advantages and disadvantages. For the first kind of power plant, an industrial chain of plants already exists, while solar thermal power technologies have barely gotten out of the lab, Ma at IEECAS said.

"So far, there is no solar thermal power plant in China, not even in Asia," Ma added. Solar thermal power can be applied extensively in parts of north and west China, such as Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Gansu, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region , Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Qinghai and Tibet autonomous region. But a few challenges need to be addressed before the industry can develop more rapidly, said Xu Honghua, an expert at the National Energy Expert Consultative Committee.

Study of low-carbon renewable alternatives for China revealed that concentrating solar thermal (CST) electric power was under-emphasized in China’s renewable energy plan. The main motivation of this paper is to provide the analysis and strong arguments that CST power can be a viable renewable energy alternative for China to meet its challenges of:

1) continuing to fuel China’s economic growth, 2) narrowing regional disparity, and 3) providing clean energy in China’s path to a low-carbon economy.

There are many studies on the subject of China’s economic growth and environmental impact, China’s regional disparity, China’s renewable energy plans, and concentrating solar thermal’s potential and feasibility. However, not many have combined the above to examine comprehensively the role that CST may have in China’s future. As such, this research integrates:

1) a review of China’s past (post-reform), present, and future in terms of economic growth, energy consumption, consequent impact on the environment, and policy response; 2) a technical and economic analysis of CST technology; 3) a comparative economic impact assessment of CST adoption; and 4) a review of policy strategies that can lead to CST commercialization; to better assess the value of concentrating solar thermal power (both absolute and comparative) in China’s geographical and social-economical environment.

The analysis shows the competitive viability of CST with major conclusions that include the following:

1) China has the key prerequisites to making CST power generation economical including high-quality solar resources (DNI level ranging from 5 to 9 kWh/m2 per day in the Western region of China), appropriate land requirements, and power grid availability;

2) CST’s proven history, 100s of MWe scale capacity, and dispatchability makes CST a good utility-scale clean energy power plant option for China especially in the economically under-developed Western regions;

3) CST power is currently not cost competitive to coal-fired electricity on a nominal basis (10 cents per kWh for CST parabolic trough compared to 4.6 cents per kWh for coal-fired electricity in Xinjiang), but can be a very competitive electricity generation alternative when costs of externalities (depending on the assumptions used as externalities estimates vary greatly) are accounted for;

4) with externalities, CST, at 11.4 cents per kWh, can become 57% cheaper than scrubbed coal and 29% cheaper then nuclear power according to estimates;

5) CST power has great potential for continued cost savings from both economies of scale and technological improvements in efficiency and can potentially realize a levelized electricity cost of around 4 cents per kWh within ten years;

6) CST has the potential to positively impact Xinjiang and Tibet’s economy ($5M to $30M of additional GDP per MWe of CST capacity installed), but proper policy and deal structure must be in place to ensure that the local community receives the benefit.