China puts faith in large-scale concentrating solar power as world watches

solar tower

A solar tower – similar to one of the 6 to be built in the Gobi desert

China was in the renewable energy news again this week though this time it wasn’t about the latest in solar panel technology or trade disputes. For the big (read huge) story was Chinese regional media reporting the start of construction of the country’s first large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) plant.

To be carved out of 2550 hectares of the Gobi desert, the plant will use two 135 MW solar thermal plants in its first phase, with enough thermal energy storage to power half a million (!) homes in Qinghai Province. 

A joint development between Qinghai Huanghe Hydropower Development Co., the Shanghai Electric Group and the US-based BrightSource Energy company, the Qinghai Delingha Solar Thermal Power Generation Project will eventually increase production to six solar thermal plants.

According to the BrightSource website, the plant will have 3.5 hours storage capacity. The CSP technology consists of a range of mirrors which reflect the sun’s rays towards a central tower which stores thermal energy using molten salt.

At the 2014 signing of the agreement, David Ramm, CEO of BrightSource Energy described CSP as a cost effective and reliable source of renewable energy that is ideally suited to China’s growing energy needs.

“Concentrated solar thermal power with integrated thermal energy storage is a cost effective way to bring reliable, dispatchable renewable energy to the grid today,” he said. “By partnering with Shanghai Electric we will deploy our best-in-class solar thermal technology to help China meet its growing energy needs and emissions-reduction goals.”

The fact that China clearly aims to drive ahead with CSP technology is a pointer to the way similar renewable energy projects will be rolled out around the world. The country’s planners have targeted 10GW of CSP plants by 2020, which would make them world leaders in this form of solar renewable energy. Already the country has a number of CSP projects planned around the country and if China, one of the world’s solar energy superpowers, is so clearly putting its faith in CSP, then this optimism may resonate around the world.

For there is no doubt that China’s experiments in CSP is being watched in many other countries.

China has assumed leadership in many areas of solar power generation and the current emphasis on CSP would indicate that the country is exploring this technology as a key source of renewable energy for its future energy needs.

The construction of the first large-scale concentrating solar power plant has given impetus for fans of the technology to argue its case. So how much of our future renewable energy mix do you think will be taken up by CSP technology? Please go ahead and have your say.


  1. Clive Edmead says

    This is fine for the Chinese who seem to live in multi storey flats and do not have their own roof space.
    It will please the greenies by not using our exported coal.
    However this is a grid feeder and does not interest us much who are mainly interested in saving money with our own rooftop panels and hopefully a powerwall system once the price comes down.

  2. Colin Spencer says

    It is a nominal investment compared with that of China’s wind power, hydro-power and nuclear power new investments per annum. But it is essential to have such an initiative. In the total picture, solar is a small element of China’s power generation total, with just under 70% being coal fired thermal. Hydro, of course, makes the biggest dent in that figure. Too many numbers to write down here, but this article sums the position up for 2014 :

  3. Rich Bowden says

    Thanks folks. Interesting points of view. Do you believe that CSP has a future in Australia with our wide open spaces in combination with rooftop solar ?

  4. 2 x 135 MW … about 1/4th the power of a coal-fired power plant.

    Do you see what we’re dealing with here? A very very diffuse energy source, comparatively, that takes a lot of material to concentrate…

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