Shams 1 concentrating solar power station near Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Shams 1 concentrating solar power station near Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Flickr @ Masdar Official

A $150 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help China build a 50-megawatt concentrated solar power plant in the northwestern province of Qinghai. According to the ADB, if timely deployed, concentrated solar power in China can provide up to 15% of electricity by 2040.

“This pioneering project will demonstrate how the PRC could leverage its indigenous solar resources to diversify its energy mix in a sustainable manner. With this comprehensive assistance package of low-cost financing, policy advice, and capacity development, we expect successful demonstration will lead to wider uptake of CSP plants in the PRC in the medium term,” said Shigeru Yamamura, a Senior Energy Specialist at ADB’s East Asia Department.

Concentrated solar power in China is being actively developed. While according to this article, there are as yet no projects of commercial scale, the 12th Five-Year Plan provides for 10 GW of concentrated solar power installations in China by 2020. Most of the concentrated solar power in China will be located in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Yunnan, all provinces with high levels of solar radiation.

The $150 million loan will help build a 50 MW power plant, which can generate 197 gigawatt-hours of clean electricity and cut 154,446 tons of carbon dioxide every year using a renewable energy technology that converts direct normal irradiation into usable heat, generating medium- to high-temperature saturated steam that runs the steam turbine for power generation. This thermal cycle enables the project to combine low-cost 7-hour thermal energy storage system allowing it to generate clean electricity even at night.

Qinghai province, which is located in a high plateau, is currently ranked first in solar power capacity concentration throughout the PRC. It has more than 2 gigawatt (GW) of solar photovoltaic installed capacity, which is more than 60% of the national capacity. The project site is located in a cold climate where mid-winter minimum temperature could fall overnight to -27 degree Celsius. This is the first application of concentrated solar power in China in such low winter temperatures.

ADB has been promoting concentrated solar power in China since 2009, with a grant that helped lower the barriers for building utility-scale demonstration project. The Government of China has since announced a target of 1 GW of CSP capacity by 2015. CSP development has been rather slow, however, primarily due to limited hands on in-country experience. By demonstrating utility-scale CSP plant in a solar rich province, the project will significantly reduce remaining barriers, enabling rapid deployment of concentrated solar power technology.