At its birth in 2008, China Wind Power (CWP) exhibition only attracted 200 exhibitors, and the exhibition area only covered 10,000 square meters. Three years later, CWP 2011 attracted more than 600 exhibitors, and the exhibition areas covered 50,000 square meters. Xia Lihua, General Manager of CCID Conference and Exhibition Co. Ltd., which is co-organizer of the event, said CWP has become the world’s third biggest and Asia’s biggest wind power exhibition.
“The scale is closely related to the development of the wind power industry,” she told Beijing Review.
According to figures released by the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA), in 2010 China installed 18.93 gigawatts of wind power with 12,904 wind turbines, a year-on-year increase of 37.1 percent—almost half of the new wind turbines installed globally in 2010. The cumulative installed capacity is now 44.73 gw with more than 34,000 turbines. In the first half this year, China installed wind capacity of 6 gw, replacing the United States as the country with the most wind power installed capacity.
CWEA figures showed that in 2010 China’s wind power output hit 50 terawatt-hours, growing by 78.9 percent year on year, accounting for 1.2 percent of the country’s total electricity generated.
Chinese manufacturers of wind power equipment continue to rank among the world’s leaders. Sinovel, Goldwind and Dongfang Electric moved up to the global top 10 and United Power joined the club this year, ranking at number 10.
“China’s wind market doubled every year between 2005 and 2009. China has become the single largest driver for global wind development,” said Klaus Rave, Chairman of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
According to China Wind Energy Development Roadmap 2050, the country’s total wind power installed capacity will reach 1,000 gw by the middle of the century, with deployment on land and offshore of 30 gw per year. The Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission issued the report in Beijing on October 19 with close technical support from the International Energy Agency.
The report says the share of wind power in China’s electricity production could rise to 17 percent by 2050 from the present 1.2 percent, an achievement that could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 gigatons per year.
“However, China’s rapid growth in wind power doesn’t come without challenges,” said Rave.
Jiuquan in Gansu Province, where China’s first 10-gw wind power base is located, has witnessed 35 electrical equipment malfunctions this year, according to a report released by the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC), China’s power regulator.
SERC said the malfunctions, all caused by transformer breakdowns, led to four large-scale blackouts in February and April.
These accidents have exposed major problems in China’s booming wind power industry, according to SERC. The commission attributes these accidents to the absence of low-voltage ride-through (LVRT) capability in wind turbines. LVRT, a necessity to ensure grid safety, provides wind turbines with the capacity to maintain continuous operation during and after precipitous voltage dips. LVRT-capable wind turbines allow the power grids to be more quickly adjusted and improve their overall safety and stability against variations in wind speed.
Liu Qi, Deputy Director of the National Energy Administration (NEA), said, “The accidents took place partly because we had emphasized the construction of wind farms on a large scale but neglected product quality and management.”
After these accidents, SERC carried out a comprehensive check of the wind power farms nationwide in August, focusing on the safety management of wind power plants, wind power equipment, and operations and access systems of wind power plants. The commission said the check aimed at researching the safety status of China’s wind power development and analyzing the impact of large-scale wind power operations on the safety and stability of the power system.
Although China leads the world in wind power installed capacity, about 30 percent of the capacity is not yet in operation.
According to Shi Pengfei, Vice President of CWEA, of the 44.73 gw of China’s cumulative wind power installed capacity, only 31.07 gw is in operation. Of the 18.93 gw of newly installed capacity, only 73.9 percent, or 13.99 gw, has been put into operation.
“In recent years China has made huge wind power investment, and the installed capacity has increased rapidly, but development of power grids has not caught up, so that much wind-produced electricity cannot be transmitted out,” said Shi. He suggested the government put wind power into a unified state plan of the power system.
Under the Renewable Energy Law, promulgated in 2005 and amended in 2009, wind farms with government approval are guaranteed access to sell all their wind-produced electricity to the power grids.
At present, wind projects below 50 megawatts are subject to the approval of local governments. For the aim of pushing up GDP growth, governments in various localities have been enthusiastic about wind power and have approved a great number of projects under 50 mw, leading to a difficulty for wind-produced electricity to gain access to the grid.
Liang Zhipeng, Deputy Director of the Department of New Energy and Renewable Energy of the NEA, said local governments have announced over 40 gw of wind power projects, and if they are all built, many will be unable to access the grid.
To solve the problem, the NEA is now tightening control over wind power expansion projects by reducing targets for new capacity. The NEA says apart from the quotas it has formulated, all local wind power projects will not be incorporated into the grid-access planning of the state grid and will no longer receive subsidies for electricity generated by renewable energy.
Another problem is transmission, which is never easy for China’s wind power sector. Most of the areas rich in wind power resources are in the north and the west, such as Gansu, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, while the load centers, or big power users, are in the developed eastern area. Such mismatch creates a huge challenge for transmission, particularly when the northern and western wind bases are sending high volumes of power into the power transmission system.
Qiao Liming, China Director of the GWEC, said Chinese grid companies’ inexperience in the challenges of dealing with wind power’s variability also contributes to the grid challenge, and an underdeveloped wind-forecast system adds more uncertainties.
According to Qiao, lack of flexibility in the power grid significantly hinders wind development, and power curtailment is a common practice. In the first four months of 2011, about 16 percent of electricity from China Longyuan Power Group Corp. Ltd., the country’s biggest wind power developer, was curtailed on the grid. In Inner Mongolia the figure was as high as 40 percent.
Wind power sails
Since development of onshore wind power plants is constrained by the power grid, China is exploring new areas—offshore. A survey on wind power resources carried out by the China Meteorological Administration shows that China has up to 500 gw of exploitable resources in seas 5-50 meters deep. Along the coast are large economic centers with growing demand for power, so offshore wind-produced electricity can be easily fed into the grids.
“Developing offshore wind farms in these areas will reduce local energy shortages and avoid long-distance transmission issues that beset China’s major land-based wind farms in the north,” said Qin Haiyan, Secretary General of the China Wind Energy Association.
Shi Lishan, Deputy Director of the NEA Department of New Energy and Renewable Energy, said offshore will be another direction for China’s future wind power development.
China kicked off offshore development in 2010, including the construction of the 102-mw Shanghai East Sea Bridge Project with 34 Sinovel 3-mw offshore turbines.
China’s offshore capacity is now only a small proportion of its total wind power installed capacity, but this is set to increase. In June the NEA announced a plan to install 5 gw of offshore wind projects by 2015, as well as developing full technologies and setting up a complete industrial supply chain. According to the administration, by 2015 China will begin scaled development of offshore wind power and its technologies, and by 2020 it will construct 30 gw offshore projects.
According to the NEA plan, in the next five years, China’s offshore development will focus on Jiangsu and Shandong provinces, and the country will also promote offshore wind development in Hebei, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan.
“The industry needs to slow down a bit to reflect on both the experiences and lessons to be learned—something that is now happening,” Qiao said. “This does not mean that the wind sector will stagnate. On the contrary, it is still the most important sector in China’s stride toward clean energy development, which is vital for both energy security and climate change.”