China: CSP


The Provinces of China. New CSP will mainly be in Qinghai, Gansu & Inner Mongolia.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) uses mirrors and lenses to focus the energy of the sun to make steam, drive turbines and so make electricity. This solar technology can be used to directly drive industrial processes, desalinate seawater, or to power air conditioning via absorption chillers. With CSP heat is usually stored in molten salt and this is then used to generate electricity in the evenings after the sun has set. This is a very important advantage over photovoltaic solar. I’ve long been a fan of this technology and have written about it frequently on this blog. In the first decade of this century Spain lead the world, before abandoning support under the Rajoy government in 2010. In February 2013 I posted a blog asking ‘where next for CSP?’ I’ve posted blogs about Morocco, Chile, South Africa and USA who have all built impressive examples of this technology.

Until recently China had not built any serious CSP power projects. A couple of months ago they simultaneously announced twenty projects, ranging in scale between 50MW and 135MW, all with thermal storage and all designed and built mainly by local companies. Various mirror configurations will be used: parabolic troughs, power towers and Fresnel systems. All the projects will have to be up and running before 2019 to get the agreed price of 1.15 yuan/kWh. This is a very tight time scale, but I’d expect all will be achieved on schedule. The Chinese government refers to these as demonstration projects. If they are successful, which I’m sure they will be, I would expect the next tranche of projects to be on a larger scale. The projects are all in the sunnier west of China: mainly in Qinghai, Gansu and in Inner Mongolia. High voltage direct current power-lines will connect them to the cities on China’s less sunny east coast.

Jeremy Williams wrote an interesting blog about China’s carbon emissions and the various viewpoints people have about their future emissions. On this issue I’m firmly on the side of the optimists. I’ve blogged before about how China’s carbon emissions skyrocketed in the decade 2002 to 2012. They’ve since declined a little. I both hope and expect they’ll plummet over the coming decade, 2017 to 2017. Urban air quality is a very serious health issue in China, and China is also very vulnerable to climate change. The government is very conscious of these threats and has the money and technological ability to take action on a heroic scale and by doing so it will become a leader in both the technological and political spheres, just as USA is abandoning any sense of political leadership, particularly on Climate Change. China is investing heavily in most forms of low carbon energy, including nuclear, wind, solar photovoltaics and hydro. All forms of energy generation have advantages and disadvantages, but CSP seems to me to be one of the best for the hot dry regions of the world. These initial twenty projects will probably be followed by many larger scale projects over the coming decade, and make a significant and worthwhile contribution to reducing carbon emissions and local air pollution.

4 thoughts on “China: CSP

  1. anne adams

    Dear Richard,
    I was interested in your reference ro “molten salt” for storage of electricity. Some of us visited Caplor Energy recently, and Gareth said the storage batteries he has have salt water in them. Is this the same thing ? If so it should be very easy to store and lithium is not needed. Can you explain ? Is salt less good for storage than lithium or other element ?

    1. Richard Post author

      Hi Anne

      Molten salt is used to store heat. With CSP the sun’s heat is often stored as heat, from which steam is made and electricity generated after the sun has set.

  2. Robert Palgrave

    The ‘Desertec’ dream of supplying Europe with electricity from renewable generators in North Africa including CSP and also wind is not dead. Nur Energie are still progressing their project linking Tunisia to Sicily and and to Malta, and forecasing they will be sending up to 10,000 GWh of low carbon electricity per annum to Europe from 2020.

    And, as they are intending to use molten salt storage, they can decide at what times of day to transmit their electricity. Helping their cashflow and hopefully driving down the need for ‘baseload’ fossil and nuclear power generation in Europe.


    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks Robert. I do keep an eye on Desertec type projects and have been aware of Nur Energie for some years, and when they start construction I’ll do a blog about them.


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