As Deng Hui looks out at a forest of towering turbines dotting his company’s wind farm north of Beijing, a cold, drizzly wind howls in his face, but he doesn’t mind
“That’s the sound of money being printed,” laughs Deng, general
manager of the wind farm developed by state-owned China Energy
Conservation Investment Corp.
A couple of years ago, only a few
dozen of the 80-metre (262-foot) propellor-like turbines stood on the
wind farm’s vast open expanse of grass. Today it has 200 and counting.
facility’s growth is but one example of soaring investment that has
made China an emerging world leader in wind energy, with potentially
huge benefits for the environment in both China and the world.
close to 80 percent of China’s energy supplied by cheap but heavily
polluting coal, the government has laid ambitious plans to raise the
use of renewable energy, such as the winds that rake northern and
“It’s not like people are still talking about wind
as a potential future direction. It is already the way forward for a
lot of power companies in China,” said Yang Ailun, climate and energy
campaign manager for Greenpeace China.
But the pace of wind energy’s development in China has surpassed even the most optimistic projections.
setting an original goal of 30 gigawatts of installed wind power by
2020, the government recently said that could be raised to 100
gigawatts as installed capacity has doubled each of the last four years.
almost nothing a few years ago, China had 12.2 gigawatts of installed
wind power by the end of 2008 as power companies have rushed to meet
government mandates to raise the proportion of energy they produce from
There are about 121 gigawatts of installed
wind power worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council
(GWEC), with the United States, Germany and Spain the top three wind
power nations, followed by China.
In June, authorities in
northern China’s windswept Gansu province detailed plans for a “Three
Gorges of Wind Power,” a reference to the massive Three Gorges
hydroelectric dam on the Yangtze River.
Gansu’s plans alone would
nearly match the eventual 22.5-gigawatt installed output of the dam,
the world’s largest hydroelectric project. Other provinces are
discussing similarly ambitious plans.
Installed capacity has
grown so fast that it has outpaced the electrical grid’s ability to
accommodate the newly generated electricity, leaving much of the output
of Deng’s wind farm going to waste.
“Our nation’s wind power has
developed very fast but the distribution system’s development has
lagged. This was an unavoidable problem with wind,” he said.
China’s 12.2 gigawatts of installed power in 2008, only 8.9 gigawatts
made it into the electrical gird, said Qiao Liming, GWEC policy
The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that wind
farms in remote regions rich in the resource are too far from
“In the past two or three years this has really become a serious problem in China,” said Qiao.
issue is a project bidding process widely viewed as lacking
transparency and which sets wind electricity tariffs too low for wind
farms to turn a decent profit, she said.
But the government has
shown increasing concern about these hurdles and appeared set to solve
them, Qiao said, noting that an economic stimulus plan unveiled last
year will include heavy investments in electrical grid expansion.
part of a process. Because of the huge wind farm development that just
happened in recent years… it takes some time for the government to
really solve such issues,” she said.
The growing pains are not
stopping development of wind farms like that managed by Deng, located
on the edge of the Mongolian steppe and reached via a three-hour drive
north of Beijing along a highway dotted with huge trucks hauling
40-metre long wind turbine blades toward the plains.
Deng said hundreds more of the 80-metre tall turbines are planned.
the problems, the government is working to coordinate the development
of the grid and wind farms. This will create an even better path for
wind power,” he said.