China’s Grid-Limited Wind Energy Potential

China’s wind power industry barely noticed the international financing crisis, doubling installations in 2008  for the fifth year in a row. Readers of Carbon-Nation shouldn’t be surprised, as we have already documented the state and market share-driven industry’s insensitivity to quaint financial targets such as profitability. What may ultimately check China’s seemingly unstoppable wind power surge is the capacity of its power grids to absorb the resulting energy.

China wind capacity-factor projection. Credit Michael McElroyThat conclusion emerges when one examines a report in Science last week by researchers at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Beijing’s Tsinghua University, which combines meteorological and engineering models to predict that wind farms could meet all new electricity demand in China through 2030 at reasonably low cost. My coverage of the report, published yesterday by MIT’s Technology Review.com, concludes that China’s grid is the key hurdle to realizing this bold prediction, noting hopefully that China is already leading the world in the development of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission technology — the sort needed to share variable renewable energy sources such as wind power on a trans-continental scale, thereby minimizing the power supply’s vulnerability to regional weather patterns.

Analysts, however, doubt that China can build such renewables-ready supergrids fast enough to replace anticipated additions of coal and nuclear power, as projected by the Harvard-Tsinghua report. Caitlin Pollock, who prepares Asia wind market forecasts for Cambridge, MA-based consutancy Emerging Energy Research, says grid challenges make the growth level proposed “unfeasible and unlikely.” She notes that grid integration already lags wind-farm installation: “While China’s wind market has indeed doubled for the past two years, approximately 30% of this new capacity remained unconnected to the grid at the end of each year.” Continue reading “China’s Grid-Limited Wind Energy Potential”

China’s Wind Surge Ignores Financial Mess

The global wind power industry is bottoming out thanks to the global financing crisis. Everywhere but China, that is, according to a research update issued this week by consultancy Emerging Energy Research (Cambridge, MA).

EER adds up the impact of “a steady flow of wind industry CAPEX reductions, project postponements, order cancellations, and corporate downsizings on a scale never seen before in this relatively young segment of the energy sector.” They forecast a 24% decline in megawatts installed in the US this year over 2008, and a 19% decline in Europe.

Then there’s China, which EER calls “the only major market left standing in the face of the crisis.” EER projects a 59% jump in megawatts added there in 2009 — enough to make up for the U.S. and European losses.

Carbon-Nation readers will recall our June 2008 reporting on China’s wind sector that was already, then, notable for (a) its “endurance in the face of below-cost pricing” and, (b) low quality assurance that had even its trade association calling for slower growth. Looks like its too late for the latter.

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This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate