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January 11, 2010

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Home » Business » Energy

Tapping solar power to cut reliance on fossil fuels

A United States solar power company said on Saturday it will help build a series of solar thermal power plants in China, as the country tries to decrease its heavy reliance on coal, imported gas and oil.

California-based eSolar Inc will provide Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing Co with the technology and information to build the concentrated solar thermal power farms with a capacity totaling 2,000 megawatts.

The US$5 billion investment would be the largest such project in China, though the firms didn't say who would be investing how much.

"This is a huge jump for China," said Deborah Seligsohn, director of the China climate program for the US-based World Resources Institute. "That amount suggests a number of commercial plants."

Interest in China as a solar energy market is growing quickly as the government looks for alternatives to coal. The deal comes four months after the largest solar panel maker in the US, First Solar, struck a tentative deal to build a massive solar field in China.

The eSolar deal is for concentrated solar thermal power - not the traditional image of vast farms of solar panels, but a system of taking what essentially are mirrors and focusing them to heat water to create steam to power a generator.

"There's room in the world for both systems, and we need both," Seligsohn said.

China is moving much faster than the US in solar power development, eSolar officials said.

"This is an excellent example of what we all must do to fight climate change," Merrick Kerr, eSolar's chief financial officer, told a news conference on Saturday in Beijing.

The first solar plant under the deal will be in Yulin in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

China has set ambitious goals for solar and other renewable energy in an effort to clean up its environment and curb surging demand for imported oil and gas.

Late last year, legislators approved changes to China's 2006 renewable energy law saying utilities will be required to buy all the power produced by wind farms and other renewable sources to cut reliance on coal.


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