China to train developing nations in solar technologies

Panels used to generate solar power Copyright: Robb Williamson/NREL

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[BEIJING] Chinese scientists are to train 10,000 technicians from African and other developing countries in the use of solar energy technologies over the next five years.

Describing the plans, Xi Wenhua, director of both the Institute of Natural Energy (INE) and the China Solar Energy Information Centre, told SciDev.Net the training will include programmes on small-scale solar power generation and solar-powered heating and irrigation.

Using funding from the central and provincial governments, the INE — part of the Gansu Provincial Academy of Sciences — has established an eight-hectare training facility powered entirely by solar power. The facility, which is the largest in Asia, has trained more than 400 people from 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America since 1991.

The scale of training will be greatly expanded next year, and China will not only host training programmes but also send staff to other developing countries, mainly in Africa, to help train people there.

“Training African technicians to use solar power is part of the China-Africa science and technology cooperation agreement signed by the Chinese science minister and African counterparts during premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Ethiopia last December,” says Xi.

Last year, Xi headed a team that trained more than 40 science officials from 20 African countries in Ethiopia and Tunisia, on the use of solar energy. The training was partly funded by the African Development Bank and some local businesses. Xi’s institute also helped the Ivory Coast and Tanzania draft national solar energy plans last year.

According to Xi, China has some of the most advanced and practical solar energy technologies of any developing country. While admitting that China’s solar energy technologies are less efficient than those of Germany, Japan and the United States, he adds that the cost of producing them is much lower than in industrialised countries.

Despite the lower production costs in China, solar energy there is still three to ten times more costly to produce than that obtained by burning fossil fuels, because of the investments needed for equipment and installation.

As a result, although China has the technology and the need for more power supplies, solar power accounts for less than one per cent of the nation’s power generation. It is mainly used in China’s remote rural and mountainous areas where thermal power stations cannot be built.

Specialists led by Chen Qingtai, director of the Chinese state council’s development research centre, have called for solar power use to be increased to five per cent in the next ten years, but the government has yet to make a clear statement on its plans.

Xi did not reveal how much China would be investing in the training programme, saying only that it will be several times of the amount spent on the programme in recent years.

Currently, about 20 people from Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mongolia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan and Thailand are being trained at the INE, with all training and accommodation costs funded by the Chinese government.