The vast Tibetan Plateau is the closest place on earth to the sun. Solar energy, one of the region's superior energy resources, is widely used. Solar cooking stoves and bathrooms, for instance, are fitted in thousands of households. A stove using a 2-square-meter solar panel is equivalent to a 2-kw electrical stove in most places. Many families have also installed solar water heaters for year-round supply. As farmers and herdsmen are scattered across a broad expanse of land, electricity is beyond their reach. Well-to-do farmers and herdsmen were longing for an electric light to replace their buttered oil lamps and candles, as well as wanting a radio and television. The spread and application of solar energy cells have made their dream become true.
To know the current living situation of the Tibetan people, one has only to look at what they eat and wear, what they use to decorate their rooms. their spacious and bright houses, and their smiling faces. Because harsh natural conditions featuring thin air and low temperature are not conducive to horticulture and growing garden crops, fresh vegetables and fruit have to be brought in by road and air from elsewhere. The development of heliogreenhouse technology has considerably enriched dining tables year-round with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs. People begin to pay more attention to nutrition and healthy food. Reform and opening policy, as well as successive waves of scientific and technological revolution, have made the Tibetan people's lives better and prosperous.
Since 1979, the Solar Energy Research Institute of Tibet Autonomous Region has been developing solar energy stoves, ovens, water heaters, heat collectors, greenhouses and heating houses. All these facilities have passed through the experimentation and demonstration phases and have been widely used. By the end of 1995, a total of 60,000 stoves and 55,000-square-meter water heating facilities had been in use, along with 700 kw of solar power facilities including over 4,500 sets of solar power supply equipment for satellite ground station. In addition, the region had built a swimming pool and 140,000 square meters of housing with solar heating system, and 1.5 million square meters of various types of heliogreenhouses. This has helped save energy equivalent to 120,000 tons of standard coal annually. The annual comprehensive economic returns from solar energy are now valued at more than 96 million yuan. As a result, the region's Sunlight Plan is being rapidly expanded.
After dark, lights are lit on every street and household. The lights twinkling in the households of remote mountain villages seem like stars, giving all of Tibet a warm, harmonious atmosphere. All these come from indispensable geothermal and hydropower resources.
In July 1977, the Yangbajain Geothermal Power Station, the first of its kind in the region, was erected on the beautiful grassland of north Tibet and began generating power three months later. The state has invested more than 200 million yuan to make it the largest geothermal experimental base in the country. The station now has an installed generating capacity of 25,000 kw, ranking the 10th in the world. The development of the Yangbajain Geothermal Field and construction of power station there are of great significance not only to power supply in Lhasa but also to exploration of abundant geothermal resources in Tibet and the country as a whole.