Domestic utility company assists with power deficit woes abroad
China Huaneng Group is one of the five giant utility companies in China, founded in 1989. [Photo: from IC]
China Huaneng Group is a leading electricity utility enterprise in China. Established in 1989, figures show that the company generated 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of power daily, accounting for nearly 12% of China's total power generation in 2018. Moreover, it also has conducted several world-renowned projects overseas, which significantly help more people get access to sufficient electricity.
China Huaneng Group has approximately 140,000 professionals working domestically and abroad. [Photo: from China Plus]
Approximately 140,000 professionals with the company are making contributions to the power generation industry. In this edition, we will get to some representatives of them and unveil what kind of effort they have made. But first, let's go to Pakistan and see how Chinese professionals engaged in power shortage alleviation there.
The Sahiwal Coal -fired Power Plant effetely helps Pakistan fill one quarter power shortage. [Photo: courtesy of China Huaneng Group]
July 3rd 2019 marks the two-year anniversary of full operations of the Sahiwal Coal -fired Power Plant, in Punjab, the second-largest province of Pakistan by area. It is the largest coal-fired plant built by Chinese firms overseas, with a total investment of about USD1.8 billion. It has effectively filled a quarter of the power deficit in Pakistan, and now more than 10 million locals have stable, affordable electricity.
Staff members were dedicated to their work in the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant. [Photo: from People's Daily]
Around 300 Chinese professionals left their hometowns to contribute to the construction of the power plant and take advanced technology to Pakistan. The project was completed nearly seven months ahead of the contract period and both of the two units successfully passed 168 hours full-load test run. As well as overcoming the stifling heat, these professionals have encountered and solved many other difficulties. China Plus's reporter recently talked to a couple of them and brought back their story.
The accomplishment of the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant on June 8, 2017 marked a milestone in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiated in 2013, which is an extensive, multidimensional infrastructure project, involving a complex network of roads, ports, power generations and railways across Pakistan.
By the end of 2018, the power plant had cumulatively generated over 14 billion kilowatt hours of power, with sales of USD920 million. Equipped with the latest state-of-the-art environment-friendly technology, it provides power for 10 million local people, filling a quarter of the power gap in the country.
Then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was delivering a keynote speech during the inauguration of the first unit of the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant. [Photo: courtesy of China Huaneng Group]
Then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke highly of the project when he inaugurated the first unit of the power plant in May 2017.
"I would like to congratulate and compliment all Chinese friends who have worked in the project together with their Pakistani counterparts. The completed project broke a record. It is certainly Sahiwal's most important, unprecedented project in history. To complete such a giant project in 22 months, it is something extraordinary. I think it is a tremendous achievement on the part of Chinese engineers, Chinese workers, Pakistani engineers and Pakistani staff. They are working hand in hand. I think it can be an example in the history of Pakistan. It is the speed of Sahiwal."
The Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant has started its operation since July 2017, which caters for the needs of about 10 million Pakistani people. [Photo: from CRI]
The power plant was built by Huaneng-Shandong Ruyi (Pakistan) Energy Co., ltd. The company was jointly founded by Shandong Ruyi Science and Technology Group and Huaneng Shandong Power Generation Co.,ltd, a subsidiary company of China Huaneng Group. During the 22 months of construction, many Chinese engineers and professionals left their hometowns for Pakistan, a country that was relatively unknown to most of them.
Yu Yitao, an engineer who participated in the construction of the power plant, recalls a scene deeply rooted in his mind.
About four years ago when he had just arrived, he was walking around a neighboring village in the scorching heat when several local children caught his attention. They were sitting around a fan and Yu could tell from their expectant faces that they hoped it would generate some cool air. He was curious and asked if the fan was broken. The eldest boy told him that the electricity had been cut off so they couldn't turn it on.
A boy was having a cold bathe to cool down on a hot day in Peshawar, Pakistan. [Photo: from IC, taken on June 24, 2015]
"I felt sorry for these small children when I looked into their eyes. That moment was unforgettable and made me feel even more obliged to work in the project so the local people, especially these young kids, would get stable electricity soon," Yu says.
Yu vowed to build the power plant well even though the working conditions were harsh at first, with the road to the site not even paved yet, and Yu and his colleagues having to work in temporary containers and commute long distances from their accommodation. A slow internet connection was also a tedious obstacle for Yu in his work and personal life.
"I was responsible for writing daily reports and sending them back to my company in China each day. The file was normally one MB and it took two to three hours to transfer because of the slow internet. I often had to wait until all my colleagues had left the office and climb onto the roof to send the file because there was the best signal. And when I facetimed with my family, the video was often choppy."
Another challenge was the heat. Building boilers in the power plant took place in June and July, the most sweltering season in Pakistan. Yu says several welders got sunstroke because of prolonged exposure to the excessive heat.
"The welding work required exquisite skills. It had to be conducted in an enclosed environment, so the temperature was even higher where that was done."
Once the boilers were finished, Yu had to climb nearly 330-feet of vertical stairs to inspect them four times a day in 45 degrees Celsius. The temperature of the handrails rose to 60 to 70 degrees Celsius because of exposure to the sun. Yu says his hands burned through his protective gloves.
Construction of the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant was completed before the Spring Festival in 2017, a significant time for Chinese family reunions, celebrating the beginning of the New Year on the traditional Chinese calendar. But Yu could still not relax. He had another crucial task, and the operation of the power plant depended on it.
Transfer lines in the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant [Photo: from People's Daily]
He explains most of the coal used for power plants in Pakistan is imported from Indonesia and South Africa. The coal for the Sahiwal plant is transported directly to the power plant by rail from Port Karchi, which handles 60% cargo of the nation. An estimated 4.5 million tonnes of coal annually will be required for the plant, based on a calculation of 22 hours of power generation per day. For this, a coal-unloading ditch and transfer lines had to be built within the plant. The China Energy Engineering Group Tianjin Electric Power Construction and the China Railway 21 Bureau Group did the work.
"We had two big issues. The first was that China and Pakistan use two different railway, signal and communication systems. The second is that we needed to push the China Railway 21 Bureau Group to finish the transfer lines inside the plant."
Yu devoted himself to the final preparations for the plant, sometimes working for three days without a rest. During this crucial period, even when he had a low fever, he never took a day off. When everything was settled, it was New Year's Eve on the Chinese lunar calendar, time for Chinese people to enjoy a cheerful reunion dinner together. Yu recalls he was too exhausted to even phone his family to say Happy Spring Festival. Instead, he fell asleep as soon as he got back to his accommodation. However, Yu says he is grateful to have this valuable experience.
"I participated in the entire development of the plant, from the construction, trial operation and eventually successful power generation. Although it was really arduous, it was all worth it, especially when I saw how much better it was for local people. As an important project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it has been a good achievement. At the same time, I am delighted that I have this valuable work experience and my individual skills have improved as well."
Next we will meet another professional who was also committed to the project. Stay with us to find out about his separate journey in the same project.
Pakistan is one of the countries that suffer from the severest power shortages in South Asia. A report published by Dunya News, a 24-hour news and television channel of Pakistan, says that urban areas suffered eight hours of power cut while rural areas suffered 16 to 18 hours of power cuts in 2016. Even some metropolises in the country, including the capital—Islamabad, regularly blacked out for seven or eight hours at peak periods.
The Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant was successfully completed construction in June 2015, 200 days ahead of schedule. [Photo: from CRI]
That's why Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant was built. About 12 miles from Sahiwal, it's the first supercritical coal-fired power plant in Pakistan, consisting of roughly two 660-megawatt plants with a combined capacity of more than 1300 megawatts.
Breaking records in the country, the power plant was finished 200 days ahead of the deadline.
Forty-one-year old Wu Xiaolong, was one of those dispatched from China to help with the operation of the plant and responsible for technology management and supervision. He recalls the biggest impediment he faced.
Pakistan's Central Power Purchasing Agency requested that the plant should transmit the highest load of electricity at any time. Without a second thought, Wu refused.
"When we first heard about it, we couldn't believe it. The power grid in the country couldn't handle the highest load all the time. We immediately had a conference to carry out a test on the limits for the amount of reactive power to find out if the country's grid was strong enough."
Wu explains that the power grid in Pakistan was too immature to handle such massive amounts of electricity for long periods of time and it would be a potential hazard for the power plant. Wu and his Pakistani colleagues did plenty of research and verified it with domestic technicians. They summarized all their evidence and attempted to convince the Central Power Purchasing Agency.
"Pakistan did not have many coal-fired power plants, so their power grid wasn't ready yet. Unfortunately, the Pakistani sector did not accept our proposal and still insisted that the power plant should generate the largest amount of electricity."
Construction site of the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant [Photo: from CRI]
Wu and his colleagues did not give up as a matter of principle. They tirelessly conducted another ten rounds of negotiations with the Central Power Purchasing Agency, which lasted for more than three months. They often stayed up until the early hours to seek advice from technicians and engineers in China. Eventually, Pakistan's Central Power Purchasing Agency understood what these Chinese professionals insisted was strictly based on safety concerns.
"When we built the power plant, we all stuck to rigorous standards and strict codes of conduct. We did the best we could to build this world-famous project. "
Wu arrived in Pakistan in May 2017, when the building of the Sahiwal Power Plant had just been completed and the first unit was about to go into operation. He did not have much time to adapt to the new working environment before he immediately devoted himself in preparing for it.
"It was much hotter in Pakistan than China. The highest temperature was around 48 degrees Celsius. My uniform from China was made of denim. After the first two months of adapting the unit, my clothes changed colour because of all the sweat they had been soaked in for so long. Time flies. Now everything is on track. I am very proud that my colleagues and I have brought advanced technology overseas, and that's thanks to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor."
As well as solving power shortages, the plant also boosts job opportunities. According to Business Insider, Pakistan's first financial daily newspaper, more than 3000 Pakistanis worked in the project. Pakistan's Planning Committee predicts that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will create more than 700,000 other jobs between 2015 and 2030, which will add 2 to 2.5 percent to the annual economic growth of the country. A couple of Pakistani employees say they enjoyed working in the project.
"We received training in China, and we have learnt a lot of things from our Chinese friends."
"We work here not just as master and student. We actually work here as a team. We are brothers. We are working very hard to supply electricity to Pakistan with help of our Chinese colleagues. "
The project enhances the friendship between China and Pakistan. [Photo: from CRI]
The Sahiwal Power Plant has greatly promoted energy development of Pakistan. It is the first completed large-scale energy project in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and will serve as an example for future power construction projects in the economic cooperation of the two countries.
Next, we will travel to Inner Mongolia in northern China to meet another professional who's dedicated to the power generation industry.
Zhang Yuxiao is a director from the power protective relaying department with the Huaneng Shangdu Power Plant, a subsidiary company of the China Huaneng Group, one of the five largest electric utility enterprises in China. Located in the middle of Inner Mongolia and nearly 160 miles north of Beijing, the power plant provides electricity directly to Beijing, Tianjin and Tangshan in Hebei Province.
In her 15-year career, Zhang has achieved a remarkable record – she has never failed in any test run because of her meticulous and diligent mentality. Her colleagues appreciatively nickname her "The Optimus Prime of Shangdu power plant".
Zhang's specialty is electrical protective relaying, which is an essential component in every power plant as it is the first defense against outages or other abnormal occurrences.
In 2005, Zhang Yuxiao gave up the opportunity to work in a mega city and came to Shangdu to join her husband, Li Weihua. He also works at the plant, joining the company a year before her. When Zhang recalls how they fell in love, she still can't help blushing.
"We were classmates in college. I knew he had a crush on me first. Then, I admired his strategy and co-ordination when we played together in a volleyball match."
When she first arrived at Shangdu, the plant was still under construction. Having grown up in a modern city, she realized the city was in much worse condition than she imagined.
"The development of Shangdu back than was way behind what it is now. The tallest building in the city only had two floors. Most of the buildings were bungalows. Winter is earlier than elsewhere in the country. The temperature goes down to minus thirty degrees Celsius around October and November."
Although it was all slightly different from what she had expected, Zhang was not put off. She devoted herself to her work wholeheartedly. Her husband, Li Weihua, talks about his wife.
"I thought we should have spent more time to catch up after a year apart. But on the contrary, I seldom saw her at home. I cooked meals for her, but she often only had a few bits because she was so tired and had no appetite. I felt sorry because as a husband, I did not want my wife to be too tired at work."
Zhang spent plenty of time in enriching her knowledge of protective relaying in the first few years of work. She found her new classroom after graduation was the power plant construction site. She was responsible for carrying out inspections of electrical rooms, where power distribution equipment was stored in every corner, inside and outside the plant. Zhang says it was vital to know every circuit and she never stopped improving her knowledge. Her husband says sometimes Zhang would go back to work before he'd even finished washing the dishes after dinner. Zhang explains why she works so hard.
"If I decide to do something, I have to do my best. The construction period of our power plant was short, so we had to check every electrical circuit and make adjustments when it was needed. It was so vast and complicated. Sometimes, two or three hours had passed without me noticing."
Zhang still vividly remembers her first major challenge. A new technology that her colleagues had been studying for two decades would start its test run. The success would result in a 40 percent surge of capacity in electric transmission for Beijing. Any tiny error that occurred during the test would cause a huge loss.
"It was vital so that we must know the circuits and operations back to front. If our hands were not steady during the operation, it would likely trigger a short circuit, which would definitely jeopardize the equipment and hurt ourselves as well. We were under huge pressure as we only had one or two hours to connect four machines without making any mistakes."
After the test started, Zhang and her colleagues did not leave the power plant for three days. They took turns to have meals and naps. Their efforts did not let them down, and the test succeeded. They were relieved and decided to celebrate this good news. Unfortunately the celebration ended before it even started.
"We were too tired when we arrived at the restaurant and couldn't even keep our eyes open. We went home instead."
Zhang's professionalism was unveiled during this important test. She became the most capable technician in her department and everyone follows her instructions.
Zhang's husband says the trust from Zhang's colleagues makes her feel more responsible to do her work.
"She is always the first one to arrive at the plant if they receive calls even at midnight. She has to be a model for the others."
Zhang is 24/7 on call and often can't finish work on time if there is an emergency she needs to attend to. Her five-year old daughter has to wait at kindergarten until she finishes her work. Zhang feels guilty about that.
"I understand she feels lonely if she has to wait when the other children have gone home. I apologize to her repeatedly and promise next time I will pick her up earlier. "
Even when Zhang is with her family at home, her nerves are always on edge because she knows she might be called back to work at any time. Zhang says her power plant is indispensable because it supplies electricity for three mega cities including the capital, so they can't afford to make any mistakes.
"Most of the time, my husband stays at home with my daughter. My daughter is used to this. Nowadays, she seldom cries or asks me not to go. Sometimes if both my husband and I need to work overtime, a babysitter will come and take care of her. "
The people we interviewed in this program are just a few representatives of the 140,000 professionals from the China Huaneng Group. For three decades, they worked to generate power in the country and now they are helping people from other countries to provide stable, affordable electricity. Although sometimes they face difficulties, they always stick to strict principles with their dedication and team spirit.
(Written by Chen Ziqi; narrated by Yang Yong)