Nine of China’s first ever CSP projects, which were approved in 2016, are now coming online. Three were commissioned before the original deadline of 2018, two in 2019, and another four will come online by mid-2020.
Originally, China’s CSP Commercial Demonstration Pilot Program was to involve 20 projects totaling 1.35 GW to be commissioned by the end of 2018, with a Feed-in Tariff of $0.17/kWh which would be adjusted following performance evaluations and cost reductions.
The projects are spread across the peripheral desert provinces of Hebei, Qinghai, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, where DNI (Direct Normal Irradiance, which is the radiated energy falling on a surface which is horizontal) is above 2,000 kWh/m2/year, whereas China’s central and coastal regions are below 1,000 kWh/m2/year.
Progress on China’s CSP Pilot Program fell well short of expectations, with projects stalling amid financing issues, political obstructions, and failures of supply regarding components such as receiver tubes and reflectors. Political support for CSP faded in 2015-2017 in both Spain and the US, which had been world leaders for the technology, which inevitably interfered with the supply chain and availability of expertise. The original twenty projects are a mix of technologies, with nine solar towers, seven parabolic trough plants, and four Linear Fresnel plants, and eighteen of the twenty will use molten salt for energy storage. Of those twenty, seven solar towers, two parabolic trough plants, and one Fresnel plant are complete or on track for mid-2020, all nine having molten salt storage. These nine projects total 550 MW, with each being 50 MW except for a tower and a trough project which are each 100 MW.
Among the purposes of the CSP Pilot Program was to improve China’s supply chain for CSP, and to support the ability of Chinese companies to participate in overseas CSP projects. Saudi CSP developer ACWA Power announced in July that China’s Silk Road fund would buy a 24% stake in the 700 MW Noor Energy 1 CSP project (previously called the DEWA CSP project) in the UAE, and had previously signed an EPC contract with the Chinese company Shanghai Electric to construct it. The project will have three 200 MW parabolic troughs supplied by Spain’s Abengoa and one 100 MW central tower plant, with 15 hours of molten salt storage. The $3.8 billion Noor Energy 1 CSP project is the fourth phase of the Mohamed bin Rashid Solar Park, and will be the world’s largest CSP plant when it comes online in stages from Q4 2020 to 2022, at a levelized cost of $0.073/kWh, the world record lowest at the time in 2017.
One of the Chinese pilot projects, the Yumen Xinneng CSP, will be the world’s first commercial Beam-Down tower setup when it is completed in 2020. Weighing in at 50 MW, the project features 15 beam-down modules, a 9-hour molten salt storage system, and came at a cost of $255 million. The volumetric receiver of this project uses a two-tank direct-heated molten salt system which safeguards against the salt freezing, with a double-layer of storage tanks that have higher insultation. Additionally, the receiver cover can be closed and opened easily, which is useful in northwestern China where there is often intermittent cloud cover. Developer BCP Solar Technology, also known as Xinchen Solar, claims that a similar plant of 200 MW would enjoy four times the thermal efficiency, using second generation modules it is currently developing, and would also have 30% lower capital expenditure costs. The modular design of small CSP towers such as this one is convenient in areas with uneven ground or bad weather, and they are more easily protected from erosion by wind and sand, and from winter heat loss.
In 2018, global capacity of CSP was 5.5 GW, almost all in Spain and the USA, and mostly installed in 2011-2015, with only 110 MW globally in 2016 and 100 MW in 2017. In 2018, 550 MW was installed, 200 MW of which came from these projects in China. There was a tendency for developing countries with high DNI and with thermal energy storage, allowing CSP to compete with solar plus batteries. Additional to the CSP Commercial Demonstration Pilot Program of 1.35 GW, China had plans for 4 GW of CSP by 2022.