Solar and Hydro Power Join Forces to Light Up China’s Highest Peaks

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In the heart of China’s Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province lies the source of the Yalong River, a majestic waterway that journeys thousands of miles to eventually merge with the Jinsha River in Sichuan Province. Amidst this breathtaking natural beauty, a new age of clean energy is dawning, where solar and hydro power converge in perfect harmony.

If you were to stand on a snowy mountain peak at an elevation of 4,600 meters in western Sichuan, you’d witness an incredible sight: rows upon rows of blue photovoltaic (PV) panels harnessing the power of the sun, all while the Yalong River roars in the distance. This magical fusion of natural forces is breathing life into the land – welcome to the world’s largest hydro-solar hybrid power plant.

A “PV Sea” in the Sky

Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province, China,
Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province, China

What may initially appear to be an endless expanse of blue PV panels is, in reality, the Kela PV Plant Phase 1, a pioneering project. It’s not just the world’s largest solar-hydro hybrid power plant; it’s also perched at the highest altitude, standing tall at 4,600 meters and boasting a total installed capacity of 1 GW, covering an impressive 16 square kilometers.

Located just 50 kilometers away from this futuristic energy hub is the towering Lianghekou Dam, a 295-meter high structure that commands the Yalong River. This massive dam serves two critical purposes: generating hydropower and controlling flooding. With an installed capacity of 3 million kW and a colossal water storage capacity of 10.8 billion cubic meters, it’s an indispensable contributor to the development of renewable energy in the basin. What makes this even more remarkable is that the Kela PV Plant and the Lianghekou Hydropower Plant are seamlessly connected through a web of 500 kV power transmission lines, making the hydro-solar hybrid dream a reality.

Smart Solutions for Challenging Conditions

Huawei smart string inverter
Huawei smart string inverter

You might be wondering how these solar panels endure the extreme conditions of this high-altitude haven. Winter temperatures that plummet to -30.6°C and gale-force winds are the norm, making it a tough place for traditional operations and maintenance (O&M). That’s where Huawei FusionSolar comes into play, providing a digital and intelligent solution that’s changed the game for high-altitude hydro-solar hybrid PV plants.

Over 5,300 Huawei smart string inverters serve as the beating “heart” of the PV plant. With an impressive IP66 protection rating, they ensure stable and reliable performance in even the harshest cold plateau environments. Huawei’s patented Smart String-level Disconnection (SSLD) technology allows for the smart identification of DC-side faults and automatic disconnection to prevent fire hazards. Their Smart I-V Curve Diagnosis remotely inspects the health of over 2 million PV modules on-site, identifying problems like shading, hot spots, and microcracks. The Smart Co-Diagnosis System produces detailed reports, making O&M intelligent and accurate.

This smart solution isn’t just about surviving the cold. Huawei FusionSolar’s intelligent grid connection algorithm enables the inverters to adapt to power grids in all scenarios, ensuring excellent power quality and increasing grid-connection reliability. In June this year, the Kela PV Plant began operations, and it’s expected to yield a whopping 2 billion kWh annually, meeting the electricity needs of one million households. Furthermore, it eases renewable energy consumption challenges and bolsters power supply during peak summer hours, pushing the clean power capacity of the Yalong River Basin to over 50 billion kWh.

Innovation for a Greener Future

cows grazing underneath solar panels
The supports for PV modules are elevated to a height of 1.8 meters above the ground, providing ample room for both grazing and the flourishing of vegetation.

In September 2023, the Yalong Hydro and Huawei Digital Power jointly unveiled an innovation center. This hub, focusing on hydro, wind, and solar integration, aims to be an industry innovation mecca for renewable energy development. The partnership will explore clean energy base construction, O&M, plant operation safety, energy-saving measures, and grid-forming energy storage to address industry concerns and technical challenges.

More Than Just Energy

During the planning and construction of the Kela PV Plant, the local environment wasn’t forgotten. The PV module supports were elevated to 1.8 meters above the ground, creating space for grazing and vegetation growth. These panels also serve as windbreaks, reducing water evaporation and enhancing soil water retention and vegetation growth. Yaks are free to roam and graze through the plant, illustrating how smart PV can coexist with nature.

Moreover, the Kela PV Plant has been a boon for local employment. Over 3,000 jobs were created during its construction phase alone. The “PV + green industry,” “PV + new infrastructure,” and “PV + employment” strategies are set to propel collaborative development across agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, and transportation sectors, creating economic benefits that extend far beyond the PV plant itself.

As the clean energy base of the Yalong River reaches completion, annual energy production is projected to hit 300 billion kWh, meeting the electricity needs of 100 million households. Huawei FusionSolar is committed to partnering with customers and allies to accelerate progress towards dual-carbon goals and foster a cleaner, low-carbon, safe, and efficient modern energy system.

  • Luke Rooks

    Luke is a passionate environmental advocate based in upstate New York. When he's not sharing tips on sustainability and wellness, you can find him hiking with his dog, Max.

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