Exploring China’s solar thermal power generation technology

Like sunflowers, more than 4,000 mirrors, each covering 138 square meters, are arranged in concentric circles, concentrating thousands of beams of sunlight onto the central heat absorption tower.

This is a molten salt solar thermal power station, located in the Qaidam Basin in northwest China’s Qinghai Province, an area with rich solar energy resources. At the top of the 188-meter-high tower, the heat absorber accumulates energy to heat up molten salt flowing inside.

The high-temperature molten salt then turns water into high-pressure steam, which drives a steam turbine generator to produce electricity. Compared with traditional photovoltaic power generation, solar thermal power stations have the advantage of being able to store heat so as to guarantee continuous and stable output, complementing ordinary solar power that remains weather-dependent. “Solar thermal power generation can convert solar energy into thermal energy of the molten salt stored in a hot salt tank.

When necessary, the heat of the molten salt can drive the turbine units to generate electricity or be stored up in tanks at other times. It is equivalent to storing solar energy in way of thermal energy,” said Zhu Ziguang, head of the Qinghai Haixi Multi-Energy Complementary Solar Thermal Power Station.

The solar thermal power station in Qaidam Basin in Qinghai Province  Photo: XINHUA

The power station entered operation in 2017 with a designed annual power generation capacity of 178 million kWh, meeting the basic daily electricity demand of 100,000 residents for a year. As of June 2021, Qinghai Province had generated about 32.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity using clean energy this year, equivalent to saving 11.66 million tons of raw coal or slashing 34 million tons of carbon dioxide. Qinghai is known for its rich water, solar and wind power resources. In 2020, Qinghai’s installed power capacity using clean energy hit 36.38 million kWh.


Social Sciences in China Press, 2020-06-10. ‘China taps its low-carbon development potential’, http://www.csstoday.com/Item/7934.aspx

Built by China, 20 Jun 2021. VIDEO