Chinese Wind Energy Sector Set for Exponential Growth

Wind Turbines in the Desert

By James Noble

January 16, 2014

Already the world’s leading producer of wind energy, China’s renewable energy plan over the next decade may be the most ambitious the world has ever seen.

With a current installed wind power capacity of 75 GW, China expects to install between 200 and 300 GW by 2020 and over 400 GW by 2030. By that time, wind power will make up about 8.4% of China’s total electricity generation and 15% of all of China’s installed capacity.

Eight percent of all electricity produced from wind power may seem small, but considering China’s total generation is already more than that of all European Union countries combined, it is an impressive goal. In fact, last year wind energy passed nuclear to become the third largest energy source after coal and hydro.

Until recently, Chinese wind manufacturers produced Western-designed turbines under license. However, the sheer scale of the Chinese wind market has lowered prices and fostered innovation, and Chinese manufactures have leapt to meet the demand.

Goldwind, a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer, has developed a wind turbine that operates a direct drive mechanism instead of a gearbox, thus making the Chinese turbine easier and cheaper to maintain as compared to its largest competitors. As China’s second largest wind turbine manufacturer, Goldwind is in a position to grow steadily, as strong demand for their technology can be seen in the company’s sales pipeline.

While installation of wind farms has reached an almost frenzied pace, an unintended consequence has arisen: construction of wind farms has outstripped the building of connections needed to link the turbines to the grid. The country’s windiest regions are in Western China and tend to be distant from the biggest cities; almost 20% - 30% of turbines across China were left idle last year due to connectivity issues.

Grid systems become less stable as more wind turbines get linked to electric lines, however, grid companies are working to solve the problem. State Grid Corp. of China is extending, upgrading and smartening its transmission networks, aiming to absorb 100 GW of wind power by 2015.

Because Chinese officials have tended to locate large-scale wind farms far from energy-guzzling cities, the next stage for wind energy may be turbines that are more grid-friendly or smaller, and more distributed wind power projects that are installed nearer to electricity demand centres.