China Sees Unfulfilled Potential in the Wind
China, the world’s third-largest economy, has made green energy a priority.
The country has doubled its capacity for wind-generated power every year for the past four years, and President Hu Jintao pledged last week to turn to more sources of renewable energy in coming years.
However, many wind farms have been built far from populated areas or transmission grids, making their output largely useless for now. The China Electricity Council, a national industry group, says 28% of the country’s wind power equipment sat idle at the end of 2008.
China’s Cabinet declared last month that it would find ways to curb overcapacity and duplicated construction in the wind sector.
The Wall Street Journal also explains that the plan to rely on wind power is complicated by the fact that it must be accompanied by an increase in coal-fired plants:
China wants renewable energy like wind to meet 15% of its energy needs by 2020, double its share in 2005, as it seeks to rein in emissions that have made its cities among the smoggiest on Earth. But experts say the country’s transmission network currently can’t absorb the rate of growth in renewable-energy output. Last year, as much as 30% of wind-power capacity wasn’t connected to the grid. As a result, more coal is being burned in existing plants, and new thermal capacity is being built to cover this shortfall in renewable energy.
[China Wind farms] Bloomberg News
A worker near a wind farm in Jiangsu province earlier this year. China hopes to double the percentage of renewable energy it uses by 2020.
In addition, officials want enough new coal-fired capacity in reserve so that they can meet demand whenever the wind doesn’t blow. This is important because wind is less reliable as an energy source than coal, which fuels two-thirds of China’s electricity output. Wind energy ultimately depends on wind strength and direction, unlike coal, which can be stockpiled at generators in advance.
Further complicating matters is poor connectivity between regional transmission networks, which makes it hard for China to move surplus power in one part of the country to cover shortfalls elsewhere.