New energy revolution blows through Shanxi

By Yuan Shenggao (China Daily)

Updated: 2021-10-22


A wind farm operated by Jinneng Holding Electricity in the county of Youyu [Photo by Tian Zhong for China Daily]

Once famous for its coal, province has embraced green technology

Blue Ridge Mountain in the United States, which was featured by John Denver in his famous song Take Me Home, Country Roads, is an anthem for self-driving and mountain-climbing tourists not only in the US, but throughout the world.

But the "Blue Ridge Mountain" in Datong, China's Shanxi province, which is called Lanling in Chinese, has another charm to offer.

For travelers who love to tour technical sites, the charm of Lanling lies in its huge solar farms on the hilltops. The site gets its name from the photovoltaic panels, which have turned the area into a glittering, blue world.

A location that technology enthusiasts cannot afford to miss in Lanling is a solar farm operated by Shanxi-based Jinneng Holding Electricity Group. It features rotating photovoltaic panels that can adjust their surfaces to point toward to the sun and get more light. The rotating panels can generate 20 percent more electricity than fixed panels.

The farm marks Jinneng Holding's recent effort to shift its focus from coal-fired power plants to energy developments with lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

In 2020, the company launched one gas-fired, seven wind-power and four solar-power plants in Shanxi. The total generation capacity reaches 546,000 kilowatts, according to company executives.

Jinneng's increasing number of new-energy power stations is a reflection of the energy revolution campaign in Shanxi. As one of the major coal-producing provinces in China, Shanxi is applying an industrial transformation plan to reduce its reliance on coal and increase the ratio of clean resources.

By 2020, the generation capacity of power plants using new and clean energy resources reached 35.7 million kW, growing 2.36 times from five years ago. This also accounted for 34.38 percent of the entire power generation capacity in Shanxi.


Lu'an Solar Power, a subsidiary of Jinneng Holding Group, is the fourth-largest photovoltaic battery supplier in the world. [Photo by Li Wei for China Daily]

After decades of mining, Shanxi now only ranks third in China in its reserves of coal. However, its reserves of coalbed methane rank first nationally, which promises new development potential for coal mines with depleted resources.

Coalbed methane is a form of natural gas found in coal mines. Its thermal value is one to four times higher than coal of the same weight. Almost no exhaust gases are produced after coalbed methane is burned, according to industry insiders.

However, coalbed methane is dangerous inside coal mines. It can explode if the concentration of the gas reaches 5-16 percent.

Safe extraction of the gas can help avoid coal mine accidents by reducing its concentration. The extracted coalbed methane can then be used as a clean fuel for power plants, heating plants and residents' kitchens, according to industry insiders.

Huajin Coking Coal, based in the city of Lyuliang, is a subsidiary of Shanxi Coking Coal Group, a major coal mining, coking and power-generation enterprise in the province.

The company has installed 34 power-generation sets using coalbed methane extracted from its mines as fuel, according to Ma Zhiguo, an executive of Huajin.

"The utilization efficiency of coalbed methane is further improved as the residual heat from power plants is used for heat supply," Ma added.

In 2020, Shanxi Coking Coal Group used a total of 212.62 million cubic meters of coalbed methane for power generation, which was a sharp contrast to the volume of 41.26 million cu m in 2017.

To assist the sharing of experiences and best practices in harnessing and using coalbed methane, the United Nations launched its international center for coal mine methane utilization research in Shanxi Coking Coal Group in 2017.

Apart from the supply side, consumer demand is also witnessing a transformation in the consumption of energy resources. One example is the use of clean, alternative energy resources taking the place of coal as a household fuel for cooking and heating.

Zhang Baozhen, a resident in a village in Taiyuan's Yingze district, said she will no longer be worried about heating her home this winter.

"We used to use coal for heating in winters. It took a lot of effort to buy coal and transport it home.

"In winter, we have to fire up the stove every day, which gave the room a foul atmosphere. And monoxide poisoning was a serious concern every night," Zhang said.

She noted that her family now uses electricity to heat rooms. "A technician at the heat supply company told us the system we use is called a heat-storage heating system," Zhang said. "We only need to turn it on at night and it will keep warm when it's off in the daytime."

She said the government offered her family about 2,400 yuan ($375) as an annual heating subsidy, which almost covers the cost of the entire heating season.

Guo Yanjie contributed to this story.