China has shown it can build wind farms, but can it connect them economically to the grid?Seeking to rein in its emissions of greenhouse gases, China is on an ambitious spending spree in wind power. The government is working on plans to shell out 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) to build seven massive wind farms with a combined capacity of more than 120 gigawatts, roughly equal to the world’s total installed wind power plants last year.

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in 2008. Yet, about 30% of its wind power assets are not in use–much

of that not even connected to the transmission grid–a result of

Chinese power companies turning to wind as the cheapest, easiest way to

satisfy on paper government requirements to boost renewable energy

capacity. Whether the massive new building push will be any more

efficient is an open question, given that much of it is slated for out

of the way places, mainly in the north, making it uneconomical to build

the lengthy extensions to China’s grid that would be required to

transmit the power to distant population centers.

China has been actively developing wind energy over the past three

years. The country added 6.3 gW of capacity in 2008, doubling its total

wind power capacity to 12.2 gW, in the process becoming the world’s

second-biggest wind turbine buyer behind the U.S. and the world’s

fourth-biggest producer of wind power after the U.S., Germany and

Spain, according to the annual report of the World Wind Energy

Association.

In July, the government of the arid northwestern

province of Gansu began construction of a wind power station in the

former Silk Road outpost of Jiuquan, the first of seven 10-gW wind

power bases planned by provincial authorities around the country. The

other six have yet to receive the green light from the country’s top

planning authority, the National Development and Reform Commission.

Citigroup

estimates China’s wind power capacity could easily grow to 130 gW by

2020. “Yet, the most important question is whether wind energy in China

is efficient,” said Pierre Lau, Head of Asia-Pacific Utilities Research

with Citi.

So far, the answer has been “no.”

The

world’s largest producer of carbon emissions has been doubling its wind

power capacity every year since 2006; it was the world’s second-largest

buyer of wind turbines

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