China’s Silk Road city to develop wind power to protect environment

A city on the ancient Silk Road will strive to develop solar energy and wind turbines to drive the local economy and protect the vulnerable environment characterized by its desert-threatened oases.

Earlier this month, the National Energy Administration (NEA) voiced its support for Dunhuang in the northwestern Gansu Province to build itself into the country’s first nation-level pilot city of wind energy development.

Dunhuang, with the world renowned heritage site of the Mogao Grottoes and beautiful scenes of oases, received more than 1.5 million tourists from home and abroad last year.

According to the city’s development plan, the electric power generated by solar energy and wind energy in Dunhuang is expected to equal that produced by 2.2 million tonnes of coal by 2015. The amount of power will be nearly three times as much as the city’s energy consumption by then.

The local government hopes the new energy industry will drive the local economy, which currently relies on the water-consuming agriculture sector.

Dunhuang, with an area of more than 30,000 square kilometers, is five times as large as Shanghai. But it’s surrounded by desert and wasteland, as the oases only cover 4.5 percent of the area, according to Sun Yulong, the city’s party chief.

The increasing population and massive land reclamation in the past decades have greatly damaged the ecology of Dunhuang’s oases, with natural wetlands and forests rapidly shrinking, Sun said.

Due to the over draining of water, more than 10,000 mu (667 hectares) of saltwater lakes and 1,000 mu of freshwater lakes in the oases have dried up, he said.

The water level of the Yueya Spring, which is a crescent-shaped lake and also a famous scenic spot in Dunhuang, has dropped from five meters to one meter in the past 60 years. Therefore, the government has had to encourage farmers to plant less water-consuming crops and reduce the area of farmland to conserve water, but the moves have hampered the development of the economy.

"Although technology and money remain challenges for Dunhuang to embark on the new energy economy, its development path makes full use of its own advantages and will benefit the local economy and environment as well," said Xi Wenhua, an official with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

Dunhuang boasts abundant renewable resources, as it receives 3,257 hours of sunshine as well as possessing rich wind resources and spacious wastelands, according to the city government’s data.

More than 3,500 square kilometers of wasteland on the edge of oases in the city can be used to build solar power and wind farm facilities, with the potential installed capability reaching 100 million kilowatts, according to the data.

China’s first photovoltaic solar power station with a net capacity of 20 megawatts has been completed in Dunhuang, and the construction of an even larger one with a capacity of 100 megawatts is under way in the city.

To meet its obligations to combat climate change and adjust the domestic energy-consumption structure, China has accelerated its development of renewable energy.

Earlier this year, Liang Zhipeng, deputy director of the Department of New Energy and Renewable Energy of NEA, said China plans to build pilot zones of microgrids in regions with rich solar and wind resources and establish 100 pilot cities of new energy development from 2011 to 2015.