Latest ISCC project in China elicits nod of approval from Beijing
By Paul French in Shanghai
China’s Hanas New Energy Group (also known as Ningxia East Thermal Power Co. Ltd.) recently announced that it has begun construction on a concentrated solar power (CSP) project in Gaoshawo town, Yanchi County, Ningxia province in northwest China.
Hanas claim it is the first project of its kind in Asia, utilizing integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) technology. The plant will reportedly have an eventual planned capacity of 92.5 megawatts and is scheduled to go online by October 2013. Hanas reports that the required investment is in the region of RMB2.25 billion (around US$346 million). Partners with Hanas in the Gaoshawo project include North China Power Engineering and Germany’s Siemens.
ISCC technology integrates trough solar thermal generators with gas turbine generators to create a trough ISCC system. In a press release to announce the project Hanas stated, “…this power station represents an alternative to the traditional trough solar power generation by adding storage facilities and co-operating with combustion turbines for maximizing utilization of solar power resources.”
Hanas’s President Mr. Ma Fuqiang says that, ‘the thermal efficiency of the technology is boosted by up to 80%, by fully utilising solar energy as the source of low and medium temperature heating and high temperature flue gas generated by natural gas power generation as the source of high temperature heating.’
Hanas, and many alternative energy and solar experts, view ISCC as a potential solution to China’s major problem with CSP to date – the inability of CSP to deliver consistently enough to reflect the erratic changes in output in relation to the peaks and troughs of grid demand across the country.
To this end, China has begun ploughing significant investment into developing a nationwide smart grid to ease this problem. Here, the ability to store solar-generated energy to help prevent fluctuations in supply will prove useful.
If a hybrid technology like ISCC is proven to be a successful technology in helping “smooth” the demand and supply peaks and to better modify output to suit demand, it could herald a brighter future for CSP in general in China than has been seen so far. Hanas expects to operate the Gaoshawo plant at a load of between 30% and 100% daily.
To date, while embracing alternative energy, China has largely shied away from CSP believing it to be too unreliable, too erratic and the sites to be located too far away (mostly inland and to the northwest) to feed into the power systems where additional energy is needed (southern China and the coastal manufacturing belt).
Ningxia-based Hanas is involved in a number of alternative energy projects, including a major LNG facility in the province’s capital Yinchuan, currently under construction. If ISCC is seen as basically CSP plant attached to a traditional power plant, then Hanas has good experience of the power plant dimension of the system.
As for its partners, Siemens is expected to supply the gas turbine generators from Siemens Energy division in Erlangen, Germany. Siemens supplied turbines to Hanas’ 250MW Ningxia East Thermal Power Plant in Yinchuan last year, which will be up and running in 2012. The deal includes a long-term service agreement.
North China Power Engineering is a general power company, based in Beijing, and involved in a large number of projects across China. Like Siemens, NCPE has been involved in projects with Hanas in Ningxia previously, including jointly working on a combined cycle heating, cooling and power tri-generation project using clean energy as fuel in Ningxia to supply the centralized heating, cooling and power generation to the city of Yinchuan.
Over-priced; or undervalued?
Critics, however, complain that ISCC is expensive. Indeed, bolting a solar field onto a traditional power plant significantly increases construction costs.
But China’s thirst for energy, combined with its stated political goal of increasing energy security and reducing oil-dependancy, and its comparative advantage of low construction costs (owing to subsidies, state-owned companies, tax breaks and generally very low labour and land costs in northwest China) means that this argument is unlikely to hold much sway in China. Delivery of uninterrupted energy will be the solid test for ISCC in the PRC.
China politics watchers will have noted that the launch of construction of the Gaoshawo ISCC project was attended by President Ma of Hanas along with Zhao Xiaoping, vice chairman of Ningxia and a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of Ningxia. Additionally, China's National Energy Administration sent Hanas a letter of congratulation. It appears Beijing believes ISCC may be the way forward.
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