From yak dung to solar panels, Tibetans embrace modern heating

Xinhua, December 08, 2023
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This photo taken on Nov. 10, 2023 shows a villager dusting solar panels at a winter pasture in Dabug Village of Damxung County, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Sun Fei)

For residents of Nagqu, a city situated at an average altitude of more than 4,500 meters in southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, winter is the hardest season as the temperature can drop to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Nevertheless, Tseyang doesn't have to endure the biting cold, as her home is equipped with solar panels that ensure warmth and coziness, thanks to a local photovoltaic (PV) heating project.

"The PV project allows us to enjoy heating free of charge," said Tseyang, who lives in the rural area of Nagqu's Nyainrong County, adding that the electricity generated by the PV panels is sufficient to power the heating device at her home.

With access to diverse resources like solar power, an increasing number of residents in the region are adopting modern heating equipment, bidding farewell to the days of dung burning.

Farmers and herders living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as "the roof of the world," traditionally relied solely on burning yak dung for heating.

For decades, yak dung was considered a symbol of wealth. Even now, many locals dry the manure by sticking it to the walls of their homes.

"More manure on walls means more yaks a household owns, indicating the family is richer," said Rinchen, 60, who hails from a village in Nyemo County.

Song Huihua, head of an energy technology company, arrived in the county in 2018 to start a heating device business.

"What the herders had for heating in winter was only a stove," recalled Song, 41. "They had little understanding of heating equipment and only preferred burning dung."

Song said that Xizang enjoys more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, making it an ideal place to develop solar energy for heating. However, things were off to a rocky start.

When his company installed the photo-thermal equipment in Nyemo County, located at an altitude of 4,100 meters, the glass tube of the equipment burst due to the extremely low temperature and the low atmospheric pressure on the plateau.

To address this issue, Song's team replaced the glass tube with a metal pipeline along with other modifications, resulting in brand-new heater models specifically tailored for the regional market.

Today, the company's equipment, such as ceramic solar power heaters and the plateau heating bed system, can be found in high-altitude areas across all seven prefectural-level areas of the region, providing heating for more than 100,000 residents.

According to the regional department of housing and urban-rural development, 25 heating projects have been completed in high-altitude areas of the region and eight heating projects are under construction, with a total heating area of 32.24 million square meters covering 700,000 residents.

According to Li Xiuwu, head of the department, the heating projects in the urban area of the region use natural gas, coal, geothermal energy, solar energy, electricity and other resources.

"The application of new heating technologies is changing people's lives," he said.