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

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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.

The

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.

With

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

western China.

“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.

After

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.

From

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

renewable sources.

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.

Of

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

director.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that wind

farms in remote regions rich in the resource are too far from

electrical grids.

“In the past two or three years this has really become a serious problem in China,” said Qiao.

Another

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.

“It’s

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.

“Despite

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.

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