Sun rising on Qinghai’s photovoltaic solar energy industry

In addition to two solar energy projects finished in 2010, the province, home to the Gobi desert, approved 42 photovoltaic power projects last year alone, 40 of them had been completed within the year.

The solar power plants were incorporated into the provincial power grid, and their combined capacity exceeded 1,000 megawatts in 2011, accounting for nearly 40 percent of solar power capacity added in the country that year, said Qinghai Governor Luo Huining in this year’s provincial government work report.

Due to the industry’s rapid development, the ongoing 2012 China Qinghai Green Economy Investment and Trade Fair in Xining has dedicated a special forum to making the province a base for the national solar power industry.

The achievement has much to do with its geographic advantages, said provincial officials.

Standing on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the province, with an altitude ranging from 2,500 to 4,500 meters, enjoys 2,500 to 3,300 hours of sunshine per year.

The figure reaches up to 3,600 hours in its Qaidam Basin, where the radiant energy received per year totals 7,000 to 8,000 megajoules per square meter.

Despite its favorable natural conditions, it would have been difficult for the provincial government to boost this capital-intensive industry without investors, said a local official.

A 10-megawatt solar power plant costs around 150 million yuan ($23.55 million). And a polycrystalline silicon plant with an annual production capacity of 3,000 tons, the lowest requirement for industry access in China, requires a one-time investment of more than 2 billion yuan.

Such large amounts are barely affordable for Qinghai,a province whose economy is among the smallest in China, he added.

Thanks to the province’s investment environment, industry giants China Power Investment Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd as well as State Development and Investment Corp, started their exploration into Qinghai’s terminal market for photovoltaic power in 2009.

One year later, all five State-owned power giants and some private enterprises followed suit. They also began to explore the upstream chain of the province’s solar industry, paving the road for its comprehensive development.

In 2011, many companies in the industry worldwide suffered great losses or even went bankrupt due to a less-than-optimistic global solar power market.

Against this gloomy backdrop, Qinghai’s solar power industry nevertheless attracted a total investment of 1.7 billion yuan that year.

By the end of 2012, Qinghai is expected to build another gigawatt of solar power capacity, said a high-ranking provincial official.

The province plans to make itself a world-class solar power base within three years, local authorities said.