China plans to start building its first solar-thermal power plant next month, a pilot project that the government hopes will pave the way for building at least 150 megawatts worth of solar thermal power projects by 2015.
The China Academy of Sciences will design the 1.5-megawatt project, reported China Daily this week. The academy, along with the Ministry of Science and the Beijing city government, will fund the 100 million yuan ($14.62 million) project in Beijing.
The country has been a hub for making and exporting solar panels, and it's been busy installing solar-panel based systems throughout the country. Now it wants to explore other types of solar technologies. A solar-thermal power plant, unlike a solar-panel installation, uses the sun’s heat instead of light to produce electricity.
Building a solar-thermal power plant is a more complex and time-consuming project, but its large scale promises to delivery electricity at far cheaper prices. It requires a lot of land, and many projects already built or under development in Europe and the United States are taking place in sparsely populated areas. BrightSource Energy, a U.S. solar thermal power developer, recently inked a 1.3-gigawatt deal with utility Southern California Edison.
China’s pilot project is set to occupy 13 hectares (32 acres). It will take 10 Chinese research institutions and companies to build and operate the power plant, said the China Daily.
There are several solar-thermal power plant designs, and China is interested in the one in which an array of 100 mirrors concentrate and direct the sunlight toward a 100-meter tall tower for boiling some kind of liquid and generating steam. The steam is then piped to a generator for producing electricity.
The power plant is scheduled to come online in 2010.
LCZs would aim to stimulate transformational regional political leadership, endorsed at the national level, to create an enabling environment for large-scale innovative low carbon private and public investment. Just as SEZs provided China with a laboratory to shape its participation in the global market economy, the LCZs could pioneer approaches to decarbonisation compatible with Chinese institutions and development approaches.It appears an initial pilot of the LCZ concept is planned for China’s heavy industrial province of Jilin. I hope the idea flies, as it’s clearly in the global long-term interest. But no doubt questions of IP, tech transfer and ultimately money could create concerns within the industrialized democracies that the West is once again funding China’s development, only to be left holding the bag. Another seemingly similar initiative in China has recently emerged from the Climate Group, outlined in a new report, which also focuses on developing low carbon cities. According to the Climate Group, the program aims to recruit, motivate, and engage 20 Chinese cities in a five-year campaign to transform and accelerate the local market for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. MOUs have already been signed with the cities of Guiyang and Dezhou. It’s unclear from the materials I’ve read what the specific funding mechanism for either of these concepts will be, although with the backing of groups like the NDRC at the central government level, it’s certainly within the realm of the possible. As I’ve written about before, China’s scale offers the greatest potential for any country (except for maybe India) to drive down costs of cleantech and make clean solutions truly commercially viable. But that doesn’t mean other countries aren’t trying to compete. Less developed ideas seem to be emerging in the U.S. and Europe. Cities like Seattle and Boston have been floating the idea of cleantech innovation hubs. Various states are also vying to attract cleantech investment and economic stimulus money, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Michigan. In Europe, efforts are also under way to create the region’s first cleantech incubator, which if successful, might be followed by others. And of course, there is the Oz-like effort in Masdar in Abu Dhabi (“pay no attention to that man behind the curtain???), where the Wizard is oil money. It’s great to see a growing understanding that low carbon leadership will mean future political and economic leadership in the world. I just hope that those in the emerging Cleantech Great Game keep in mind the lessons of the original Great Game – that the fight for supremacy over a largely unmapped, strategic territory often leads to unnecessary pain and suffering at the expense of the common good. Let’s hope that the newly announced International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) can play a role in fostering the needed collaboration and help us put aside the myopia often caused by financial gain. A former foreign correspondent, William Brent is a public relations exec at Weber Shandwick. He started the firm’s cleantech practice. More can be found at http://www.mrcleantech.com.
The first thing I thought of as a patent attorney was the potential infringement liability. If indeed the turbines at issue are from the 1980s, to the extent they were patented, the patents have expired by now.But if these companies are servicing turbines made more recently, infringement could be an issue. Under U.S. patent law, once a patented article is sold, repair of the article is permissible, but reconstruction (making an essentially new article on the template of the original) constitutes infringement. The line between repair and reconstruction is not always clear and depends on the facts of each case. The types of refurbishment that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held to be permissible repair include re-applying a non-stick coating to a cooking device, replacing an inner container for medical waste, and replacing disks in a tomato harvester head. By contrast, when an entirely new cutting tip was created for a patented drill bit after the existing cutting tip could no longer be sharpened and reused, the Federal Circuit found the overhaul to be reconstruction. Two key issues run through the case law on repair and reconstruction. The first is whether the entire patented article as a whole can be viewed as having completed its useful life. In these cases, refurbishment typically is deemed infringing reconstruction. The second is whether the whole patented article consists of a combination of unpatented parts. In those cases, even where refurbishment is extensive and includes disassembly, modification or replacement of many of the unpatented components, the process is likely to be viewed as permissible repair. So, assuming the possibility of overhauling patented wind turbines, if the used or broken turbines still have useful life in them and consist of unpatented blades, generator, gearbox, etc., these resellers are likely to be in the clear. On the other hand, if the turbines are spent or have anything like the patent protection of Clipper Windpower’s Liberty wind turbine, an overhaul could rise to the level of patent infringement. Another factor, of course, is authorization from the patent holder. Halus’s website says the company specializes in remanufacturing wind turbines originally produced by Vestas, but it’s unclear whether there is some type of partnering arrangement between the two companies. Eric Lane is a patent attorney and intellectual property lawyer at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where he is in the Intellectual Property and Climate Change & Clean Technology practices. Eric is the founder and author of Green Patent Blog, which provides discussion and analysis of intellectual property law issues in clean technology.