UrbanTec China: Solar to be integral part of cities’ clean future

01. June 2012 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Markets & Trends, Storage & smart grids | By:  Eckhart Gouras

This week brought encouraging news from China regarding the development of smart grids to help enable the smart and sustainable cities of tomorrow. In addition to the key role solar can play, the need to focus on technology communication was highlighted - if the application is not visualized to the end-user, the adoption rate of the technology will suffer.

Beijing

The two day event took place in Beijing, China, from May 30 to 31.

Clean energy integration is seen as a key smart grid characteristic in China. In addition, both solar and wind play an important role as the clean energies delivering power to China’s smart grids, most importantly in its fast growing cities where consumers, be they enterprises or residents, can become so-called "prosumers", not only consuming energy, but contributing distributed energy back to the grid.

The further development of clean energy and smart grids in China was a core topic at the first UrbanTec China conference in Beijing, China. Organized by Kölnmesse as part of the first and large-scale China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), UrbanTec China ended yesterday, May 31, after two days of wide-ranging discussions involving the best way to develop sustainable solutions for cities. Beijing is one of China’s mega-cities with a population in excess of ten million, and impacted in both positive and negative ways by China’s continued urbanization drive.

Distributed solar

Various eco-city projects were showcased at UrbanTec China and for the photovoltaic industry a positive development is the frequent inclusion of installations in these cutting-edge urban developments. These are instances of distributed solar – still a small part of China’s photovoltaic installations – where the power is generated and used within these eco-cities.

Given China’s key contribution in bringing down the cost of solar, it is fitting that these achievements are also leading city planners and developers in the country to include solar in their projects. Some of these eco-city developments are joint undertakings by two governments, such as the eco-city being developed in Tianjin with the support of China and Singapore (a 50-50 joint venture), or a project being discussed in Qingdao between China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC) and Germany’s Economic Ministry.

In other cases, private players like China’s Himin Clean Energy Co., Ltd is pushing ahead with its own green development in Dezhou City, Shandong Province. Himin was founded in 1996 and is one of China’s solar pioneers, having become a leader in solar thermal and now including photovoltaic products and solutions in its portfolio.

Technology communication

But in his speech, Li Guangsen, president of Himin Clean Energy Architecture Planning Institute and Design Institute, highlighted the need to not just focus on the technology application, but also on the technology communication. People need to become aware of the energy they are saving, consuming or producing, he said, adding that if the application is not visualized to the end-user, the adoption rate of the technology will suffer.

To promote this new "energy consciousness" to use the words of Li, the company has developed a range of "MePad" solutions, which visualize the micro-emissions a certain technology (or mix of technologies) is addressing.

Himin’s "Solar Valley" project in Shandong is undoubtedly a bold vision of where communities can go with the help of intelligent grids, energy efficiency solutions, clean energy and also electric vehicles, another key topic at UrbanTec China.

The beauty of Himin’s project is that the power being used for the Solar Valley’s vehicles is sourced from clean energies within the Valley, thus reducing the need to tap conventional energy sources and long-range transmission lines. This was a criticism directed at some high-profile eco-cities in China, including the Sino-Singaporean initiative in Tianjin, which still rely in large part of fossil-based energy imports to support their communities.

Cross-border initiatives

On the other hand, these cross-border initiatives are addressing very important global problems and are still at the early stage of the smart grid and smart city development process.

The Tianjin eco-city is the first government-to-government project to develop an eco-city and it also has bold ambitions. Interestingly, it has already put photovoltaics in its eco-city buildings, for example on the roof of the GEMS International School. Like with Himin’s MePad, one of the aims of this particular project is to create an environmental consciousness among the students. Instead of power generation and consumption being abstract concepts, they can actually see how the electricity they are using is being generated.

Certainly UrbanTec China will be an interesting place to go in future years to get an update on these developments and also the growing role of solar as a core building block of these eco-cities.

Edited by Becky Beetz.


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