China will begin constructing Asia's first 1.5-megawatt solar thermal power station in suburban Beijing next month.
Designed by the China Academy of Sciences, the station is expected to cost 100 million yuan and is likely to power at least 30,000 homes when it starts operating in 2010, Wang Zhifeng, chief designer of the plant told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
The plant, covering an area of 13 hectares, would get funding from the Ministry of Science, the Beijing municipal government and the academy.
Wang, the laboratory director for solar thermal power at the academy, said the experimental power plant would be designed and operated by 10 Chinese institutions and companies, including the academy,Xi'an Jiaotong University, Huadian Corp and Himin Solar Group.
The plant is expected to generate up to 2.7 million kWh of electricity per year, equivalent to eliminating 2,300 tons of CO2 emissions from conventional power plants, Wang said.
Its solar tower is designed to be 100-m tall and is surrounded by 100 heliostats composed of curved mirrors which track the sun and redirect its rays to a receiver at the top of the tower.
The receiver would convert concentrated solar thermal power from the heliostats into thermal power. Steam from the receiver outlet would be sent directly into the turbine for electricity generation.
Solar thermal power plants are typically much larger than plants made of photovoltaic solar panels that use sunlight to produce electricity.
Wang said large-scale use of solar thermal power would help reduce power cost. The on-grid power price from plants using solar photovoltaic panels is 44 euro cents per kWh while that of solar thermal power is 27 euro cents in countries like Spain.
"Solar thermal power plants cannot be installed as conveniently as solar PV cells, which can also be installed on residents' roofs," said Wang. "The solar thermal power generation system is also more complex than solar PV power plants, as it requires sophisticated technology."
The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning agency, has said China plans to generate at least 150 mW of power from solar thermal power stations by 2015.
"If the experimental solar thermal power plant is successful, China may soon start commercial operation of solar thermal power stations of at least 10 mW," said Shi Dinghuan, president of China Renewable Energy Association (CREA).