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China to build nuclear scale solar plant

China to build nuclear scale solar plant

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Move over Texas. Everything's big in CHINA. Construction will begin soon on a 1-gigawatt solar farm 165 miles west of Beijing. It won't be the country's only one.

Move over Texas. Everything’s big in CHINA, where construction will soon begin on a 1-gigawatt solar farm 165 miles west of Beijing. At that size, the Datong City plant would have the electricity capacity of a typical nuclear station.

Hong Kong based GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. said in a press release that it will build the facility for China Guangdong Nuclear Corp.

While announcements of utility-scale plants have become more common around the world, few range up to a gigawatt.

China has announced at least one other of that scope, when Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar agreed in Sept. 2009 to build a 2-gigawatt farm, twice the size of the Datong plant, also for China Guangdong Nuclear Corp. But that project in Ordos City, 190 miles west of Datong, has suffered delays.

The GCL-Poly press release did not specify what type of solar technology the company plans to install in Datong City.

Presumably it will rely on photovoltaic panels. GCL’s main line of business is providing polysilicon to manufacturers of PV products. The $2.3 billion company has been expanding into the solar plant operation business, and currently runs what it claims is China’s largest solar plant – a 20 MW facility in Xuzhou along the country’s east coast. Xuzhou would become a minnow on China's solar scene once Datong and Ordos come on stream.

The plunging price of photovoltaics has made PV a viable alternative to what has been a common utility scale solar technology called solar thermal (also known as concentrating solar power). Solar thermal farms use mirrors to focus sunlight onto a fluid that heats up and drives a steam turbine.

Some utilities have shifted from solar thermal to PV. The chairman of Spanish utility giant Iberdrola recently criticized solar thermal as senseless.

But the World Bank late last week agreed to provide a $297 million loan to a solar thermal plant in Quarzazate, Morocco. That 500-megawatt station could expand to 2 gigawatts by 2020. It would be the first solar plant of many in the overarching Desertec Industrial Initiative, which aims to provide 15 percent of Europe’s electricity from N. Africa and the Middle East by 2050.

Photo: Janaa via Wikimedia

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure