China starts first ultra-high power transmission project in the Gobi Desert

The National Energy Administration (NEA) has announced the commencement of a significant electricity project in northwestern China, poised to substantially enhance renewable energy output across the Gobi Desert and Tibetan Plateau.

Construction began for the largest pumped storage power station in the Qinghai province, with a projected peak capacity of 2.8 gigawatts (GW) upon completion.

The station will have two reservoirs and act like a giant battery, releasing water from a higher reservoir to generate electricity when demand is high and pumping water back up using other renewable sources when demand is low.

It will be located in Guinan county in the east of Qinghai and will use the Laxiwa reservoir on the Yellow River as its lower reservoir.

The Qinghai Warang power station will be operated by the State Grid Corporation, a state-owned electric company, and is part of a series of projects in the province aimed at improving the reliability of the power grid.

Qinghai stands as the Chinese province with the highest installed capacity for renewable energy. Within its power grid, hydropower constitutes 28% of the mix, while the combination of solar and wind power makes up 63%. Anticipations indicate that the province will surpass 100GW of wind and solar power by 2030, marking an expansion of over three and a half times the current capacity.

Nevertheless, a key challenge in leveraging wind and solar power is the disparity between peak energy production and peak consumption, necessitating energy storage to enable more adaptable utilisation of generated power.

The province has been under mounting pressure to establish storage solutions that can meet peak energy demands. Pumped storage hydropower emerges as an optimal choice for grids reliant on solar and wind energy due to its capacity to store and release energy based on demand, as highlighted by the International Hydropower Association.

Liu Yongqi, director of the State Grid’s pumped storage and new energy division, said the station would fill a gap in Qinghai’s pumped storage capacity and play a big role in providing stable energy operation to the power grid.

The Warang station will have a storage capacity of 20 million kilowatt-hours and connect to the Qinghai power grid via a 750-kilovolt transmission line, according to the NEA.

Once the Warang plant is in operation, the storage it provides will be equivalent to a reduction of 4.55 million tonnes (5 million tons) of carbon dioxide emissions every year and will improve energy transmission from surrounding wind and solar plants.

Xin Baoan, chairman and secretary of the State Grid Corporation, said the projects would “greatly enhance the power grid’s ability to allocate resources and ensure a safe and reliable supply of electricity”.

Xin said the projects would also reduce carbon use and pollution, support stable employment and promote high-quality development in the region.

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