A worker checks a panel at a solar energy power plant. [Agencies]
NEW YORK: Powered by technologies from the United States and manufacturing capacity in China, a solar thermal plant with an installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts (MW) will be up and running soon in northern China.
The first of its type in China, the project also has the potential to serve as a role model for future solar plants in China with its new and cost-effective technologies.
The first 92 MW of the plant, which combines both solar and biomass energy, will be completed by the end of 2011.
The rest will be finished by 2020.
Unlike photovoltaics that convert solar energy directly into electricity, solar thermal plants generate power from operating turbines that are driven by the vaporization of water by solar energy collected through mirrors and lenses.
By integrating biomass energy, the US-China project will be able to generate electricity 24 hours a day, according to Raed Sherif, vice-president of international market development with eSolar, a company based in Pasadena, California, that has agreed to provide core technology and expertise to the plant.
"What we came up with was a way that could really bring down the cost," Sherif said. "It focuses on fundamental cost reduction, such as design and construction, so it (solar energy) can compete with other clean energies without government subsidies."
He said that eSolar was able to offer a modular design with higher efficiency to help lower the cost by about half of other solar thermal plants.
The Chinese partner, Shandong Penglai Electrical Power Equipment Manufacturing Co, will manufacture the majority of eSolar's equipment and manage the construction of the plant.
The company and eSolar will share the intellectual rights to "any new innovations developed while we work together", according to Eric Wang, senior vice-president of international business development at Penglai Electric.
Wang said that in addition to eSolar's unique design, China's manufacturing strength can also help reduce the installation and solar field equipment costs, which usually are the two largest expenditures for building a solar power plant.
Sherif believes this solar thermal plus biomass technology will be the future for solar energy's development worldwide.
Moreover, Sherif envisages that cooperation between Western technology companies and Chinese manufacturing companies could also help companies reduce costs with what technology can furnish.
Both Sherif and Wang think that China is on the trajectory of being one of the world's leaders in solar power.
Not only has the government set a goal of increasing renewable energy by 15 percent by 2020, but it has a huge demand for energy and has been a big exporter of solar power equipment.