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Across China: Giving PV panels a "shower" on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau
update:October 05,2023
XINING, Oct. 5, 2023 -- In the Qaidam Basin in the Yangtze River source area, the desolate Gobi Desert stretches as far as the eye can see, and this view includes patches of dark blue ocean-like photovoltaic (PV) panels glistening in the bright midday sun.
Li Yucai, a 51-year-old worker based in Golmud City in the central area of the Qaidam Basin, was operating a sprinkler to wash the panels meticulously. In no time, Li and his colleagues finished "showering" an array of panels.
"I have washed every single PV panel at the eastern exit of Golmud over the past decade," said the skilled worker, who has been engaged in cleaning the panels for more than 10 years.
His cleaning work relates directly to the power generation efficiency of the panels, as less dust on the surface means less interference in the effective functioning of the panels. By cleaning the PV panels on a regular basis, their power generation efficiency can be improved by 15 to 16 percent on average, or over 20 percent at most, according to the city's energy bureau.
Li used to scrape by as a rural farmer in Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China's Qinghai Province.
"My family had to rely on 4 mu (about 2,667 square meters) of crop fields to feed themselves, while ranging farther for work to earn money to cover other living expenses. We earned less than 10,000 yuan (about 1,400 U.S. dollars) a year at that time," recalled Liang Zenglan, Li's wife.
"We all rushed to see the PV power station when it started construction out of curiosity," Li said. He did not see that his life would be changed by the panels.
Since the Gobi Desert turns more arid in winter, the PV panels are often covered with a layer of dust after a long period of time, needing people to give them a "shower." After the station went into operation, Li was recruited to clean the panels.
At first, Li thought it was merely a type of physical work. However, due to advances in technology and equipment, Li later ditched the duster cloth for a semi-automatic cleaning vehicle, which enables him to finish the "showering" of panels with a total power capacity of 3 megawatts in just one day.
"On average, my household income has increased by more than 70,000 yuan annually thanks to the cleaning work. Now, I'm also in charge of the basic maintenance of the PV equipment, bringing in another income for my family," Li said.
Li has built his own house and bought a car as a result of the cleaning work. More than 10 other people from his home village have joined the PV panel-showering cause. In the peak season, nearly every household in the village is involved in cleaning the panels, he added.
With the development of clean energy resources in the west of China now in full swing, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province has become a new popular investment destination for the new energy industry because of its resource endowment and location advantages. As a consequence, batches of PV power generation projects have taken root in Golmud City.
More than 3,000 local residents in the city have been involved in PV panel cleaning and PV equipment maintenance work, said the city's energy bureau.
Currently, the prefecture is striving to build itself into a 10-million-kilowatt-level "Qaidam PV corridor" clean energy base, with several new energy projects under construction.
Golmud City alone has recorded over 5.8 million kilowatts of new energy installed capacity, contributing 44 percent of the prefecture's total, according to data released in early August. 
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