ABB helps tame China’s 'yellow dragon’ by planting desert-halting vegetation

2015-03-31 - As Solar Impulse soars above China, an ABB program in the desert below has helped keep the country’s shifting sands from damaging transmission lines and encroaching into cities

Solar Impulse 2 prepares for takeoff on the fifth leg of its journey, where pilot Bertrand Piccard flew for 20 hours ahead of landing in Chongqing, China. Copyright:Solar Impulse | Stefatou|
Sandstorms whipped by the fierce winds that blow over Inner Mongolia in China have been sending dunes steadily eastward toward cities including Ordos, on the edge of the Mu Us Desert.

With transmission lines of the Inner Mongolia Electric Power Group now the source of about a sixth of Beijing’s power, desertification has emerged as a growing problem because the shifting sands can cause poles to collapse, potentially interrupting electricity bound for China’s capital. Dunes that pile up near the power lines can cause a safety threat for local residents, too.

The sands of the Mu Us Desert in Inner Mongolia can shift dramatically in the fierce winds, endangering electrical infrastructure, damaging agriculture and creating air pollution for cities
Starting in 2007, ABB undertook a six-year anti-desertification effort with Inner Mongolia Electric Power to plant trees and grass as well as erect sand barriers.

In the process, they're taming the "yellow dragon” – slowing the advance of the desert that threatens to envelope power infrastructure and consumes valuable grazing land on the windswept Ordos Plateau.

The aim is also to help temper the severity of dust storms that spiral up from the deserts of Inner Mongolia to envelope Beijing, located some 750 kilometers east of Ordos.

‘A better world’

Integrating the concept of sustainable development into ABB’s business operations is a core philosophy of the company. Working with partners on local environmental protection projects helps create a better world. It's also a central tenet behind ABB's innovation and technology alliance with Solar Impulse, whose record-breaking sun-powered plane arrived in Chongqing on Monday.

ABB, along with Ordos Bureau of Electric Power whose transmission lines are most impacted by the shifting sands of the Mu Us Desert, contributed some $640,000 combined to the 223-hectare project. The China Green Foundation received backing from ABB for the anti-desertification program, money that went to purchase seeds and hire workers to do the planting.

In 2014, ABB formed an alliance with Solar Impulse, now taking a breather in the Chinese cities of Chongqing and Nanjing on its historic journey around the world powered only by the sun, to highlight how innovation and technology are critical components in solving the planet’s most-pressing energy challenges.

Tackling the forces of nature
Plants that have been added beneath power lines of the Inner Mongolia Electric Power Group are helping to tackle the forces of nature - naturally - to prevent damage and add forage for local herdsmen

But ABB has recognized it sometimes takes something a little more earthly – sand willow, among the plants used to vegetate the ground beneath the 110kV transmission line cutting through Ordos – to tackle the forces of nature competing with best efforts of mankind to extend electrification to an urbanizing China.

Mitigating the severity of sand storms with this vegetation means the equipment needs less maintenance.

And with biological sand barriers on the dunes encroaching on Ordos, a protective corridor of green has now taken root, providing an added benefit for the agricultural economy as each hectare can now produce extra income for the region’s local herdsman.

Industry recognition

In 2008, a year after ABB joined the project, the company was honored with the “2008 Excellent Example of a Multinational Company’s Corporate Social Responsibility” for its work. It was also included among China’s top 100 green companies in 2013 and 2014 for its contributions to environmental protection.

Purple flowers now grace the once-sandy expanses beneath the transmission lines of Inner Mongolia, thanks to an ABB project to help combat the forces of desertification impacting power infrastructure here.
ABB’s commercial efforts in China are also helping further sustainability amid rapid urbanization.

It has supplied converters, generators, substations and transformers to the country’s on- and offshore wind farms and electrified plants producing polysilicon for China’s solar panel industry.

ABB also commissioned the Xiangjiaba-Shanghai project, the world’s first commercial ultrahigh voltage direct current transmission link to transmit up to 7,200 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power over thousands of kilometers efficiently and with minimal losses to Shanghai, the country's leading industrial and commercial center.

And in 2014, ABB was selected to help build an electric vehicle fast-charging network in China and later joined forces with China’s BYD Co., Ltd., which makes electric cars and buses, solar equipment and lighting, to develop innovative new energy-storage solutions to will further advance renewable penetration in the country.

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