Solar thermal power generation is an important new technology field of solar energy utilization, which has higher generating efficiency as well as power source stability under the same scale of installed capacity. As a series of favorable news coming, the solar thermal power generation project of China enters a substantial phase, which will also promote the integrated development of solar-thermal power generation industry.

Project development enters a substantial phase

Solar thermal power generation is an important new technology field of solar energy utilization, which has higher generating efficiency as well as power source stability than photovoltaic power generation under the same scale of installed capacity.

In the industry view, the coming of a series of favorable news indicates that, the solar thermal power generation project of China enters a substantial phase, which will also promote the integrated development of solar-thermal power generation industry.

«We have persisted in the solar-thermal industry for several years; it will never be started without this demonstration opportunity,» Fan Duowang, president of Lanzhou Dacheng Technology Co., Ltd, said that, for years, simply manufacturing equipment would make poor sales forcing enterprises not only manufacturing equipment, but also conducting integrated construction and operation of test power station, due to solar-thermal power generation market not started yet, «in fact, we just want to concentrate on manufacturing where our strengths lie. «

As Solar thermal Industry Technology Innovation Strategic Alliance investigation results show, the core component localization rate of domestic solar-thermal power generation has reached 90 percent and the annual supply ability reached one gigawatt; but enterprise survival is tough and the capacity can’t be exerted because of no market demand.

«Solar-thermal power generation is the future development direction; the industry chain of China today is with ripe experience from material, equipment, system to system integration. As long as the supportive policy is introduced, it will develop rapidly. The demonstration marks that the solar-thermal industrialization makes the first step,» said Liu Xiaobing, secretary general of the state Solar Thermal Industry Technology Innovation Strategic Alliance.

Key support of new energy system

As for solar-thermal technology, people’s view remains more in the solar water heater and the application in other medium and low thermal fields. Actually, in the field of solar power generation, besides solar photovoltaic power generation, solar thermal power generation also has realized industrialized application.

In a nutshell, the principle of solar thermal power generation is that, heat medium by the light and heat collecting system, and then generates power by utilizing traditional steam generation equipment. It has different technical characteristics with photovoltaic power generation, and each has its own advantages.

«Large-scale electricity storage is unrealistic at present, while heat storage technology has been quite mature.» Fan Duowang is also a professor of the Lanzhou Jiaotong University, he introduced that besides strong power supply stability, solar-thermal power generation is able to realize 24-hour continuous power generation through light and heat collecting at front end and combining thermoelectric technology at back-end in case of perfect heat storage. «It can function as fundamental power supply and heat source and even be used for peak load regulation, which is incomparable for photovoltaic power generation.»

Su Jianjian also said that although the investment for solar-thermal power stations is three to four times of that for photovoltaic power station with the same scale of installation capacity, while its generating capacity is also three to four times as much as that of photovoltaic power station. The cost difference of them is little on average.

Furthermore, massive energy consumption is required during the production of photovoltaic cell, and it may cause pollution if handled improperly. Building materials for solar-thermal power station are mainly recyclable steel and glasses; salt is used for heat storage, which can be used for fertilizer production after processing.

Liu Xiaobing also pointed out that plenty of steels and glasses are required for building solar-thermal power station, which could effectively resolve the overcapacity issues in these industries. Meanwhile, solar thermal power generation is with heat storage function which could not only replace traditional energy for peak load regulation solving «wind curtailment» and «solar curtailment» issues but also cooperate with other renewable energy sources friendly.

Clarifying price being the key

Different from the rapid growth of photovoltaic industry, China has arranged a solar thermal power generation demonstration project of one gigawatt already during the «Twelfth Five-Year Plan» period in 2010. But it fails to be promoted due to various reasons.

«New energy industry needs government support in its developing early stage; as the front-end investment for solar-thermal power station is huge, enterprises could audaciously develop such industry only after a reasonable electricity price is determined.» Su Jianjian said frankly that technology and capacity issues are easy to be settled, everyone is waiting for electricity price being determined.

Before, the state once given SUPCON Delingha 10MW Solar Power Tower Plant the electricity price of RMB 1.2/KWH, but such price didn’t promote development of the industry and many big enterprises still take a wait-and-see attitude.

Localization and scale are major means to lessen the cost of solar-thermal power generation in the future. Su Jianjian said that enterprises import equipment from Italy currently; additional fees shall be paid for equipment of the same ex-factory price including customs duty when declared at the Tianjin customs accounting for 21 percent, added-value tax accounting for 17 percent, as well as freight charge and premium from Italy to Tianjin port. If equipment could be manufactured in Tianjin, excluding customs duty and freight charge, 30 percent to 40 percent of costs can be saved compared to importing from abroad in case of same ex-factory price. Besides, labor and material cost at home can also decrease by 10 percent, namely, the overall cost can decrease by 50 percent. «It is predicted that cost for solar-thermal power generation will decrease to a quite competitive level in five to ten years, but government support is required at the early stage.»

Except for price factor, another issue in the development of solar-thermal industry is the lack of state and international standards. «Solar-thermal power generation system integration is complicated; relevant standards need to be established at the industry developing early stage to avoid similar disordered competition in photovoltaic industry,» Liu Xiaobing disclosed that Solar Thermal Energy Alliance is focusing on the standard establishment.

By Wang Yichen,