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Greener Pastures: China looks to Xinjiang for new energy

By Andrea Park (Beijing Review)

08:35, September 28, 2012

UTILIZING SUNSHINE: Workers install a solar panel in a photovoltaic industrial park in Hami, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on August 6 (XINHUA)

The name Xinjiang literally translates into "new frontier," and the name of the autonomous region rings especially true as China looks to expand its new energy market. Companies are flocking to Xinjiang to build alternative energy plants, wind farms and new energy parts production factories. The region has become a powerhouse for the energy industry and is paving the way for China's recent efforts to foster sustainable energy.

Hami Prefecture has become one of Xinjiang's hot spots for energy. It provides 12.5 percent of China's coal and is the 14th largest coal producer in China. But Zhang Wenquan, Deputy Secretary of Hami Prefectural Party Committee, said that now the city's priority is to shift toward more sustainable options. "We want to transfer to wind and solar energy instead of coal and gas," he said.

Xinjiang is already the largest base of wind power in China. It has nine wind farms, three of which are in Hami. At Naomahu Wind Farm in Yiwu County of Hami, 99 soaring wind turbines stretch across the horizon—the area is so vast that it's impossible to see anything outside of the plant. The first phase of the plant consists of 66 smaller turbines, with a capacity of 750 kw each. The second phase has 33 larger turbines with a capacity of 1,500 kw each. Each phase has a 50,000-kw capacity, and the plant has generated 320 million killowatt hours (on average, 10 million kwh per week) since its completion last year; in China, only seven wind-powered plants have generated over 10 million kwh. The power capacity of Naomahu Wind Farm is more than enough for all of Yiwu.

Naomaohu Wind Farm plans to provide energy to outside regions, and is building a route from the south of Hami to Zhengzhou, Henan Province; it is also planning a route from the north of Hami to Chongqing. The strength of the wind at the plant is a wonder of nature—it is almost impossible to even hear other people speak—and Naomaohu Wind Farm has found a way to harness this resource for the benefit of people in and outside of Xinjiang.

In contrast, at Hami Focusic Solar Co., the air is still and the heat is high. Sun powers down on this sandscape where larger-than-life solar panels dot the surface. This solar plant is still under construction, but the technology Focusic employs is impressive. Each panel encases thousands of solar-powered batteries—each one could fit into the palm of a hand. The batteries are topped with a strong magnifying glass that concentrates the sun's rays to hit the copper battery at full strength, utilizing simple and inexpensive methods to maximize efficiency. "We don't use any rare materials for these batteries," said Wang Junxin, a spokesperson of Hami Focusic. "We just use common glass and common copper." Each panel is designed to automatically pivot toward the sun in order to get as much direct sunlight as possible; so far, only the United States, Germany and Spain have employed this technology.

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