by Fabrizio Bozzato
Because of the hectic pace of China’s economic and social development, Chinese energy demand will continue to grow rapidly in next 40 years. Beijing appears determined to pursue a low-carbon development strategy, and wind energy is going to be one of the main resources for achieving China’s low carbon goals.
According to figures released in March 2012 by the China Wind Energy Association, last year China consolidated its position as the global wind power leader in both newly and cumulative installed capacities, deploying an impressive 17.6 gigawatts of wind turbines. Notably, by the end of 2011, the added production capability took the national cumulative installed wind power electrical generation to 62.4 gigawatts, up 39.4 percent from the previous year. In December 2011, Longyuan Power, China’s largest wind power developer, connected 99.3 megawatts of wind turbines to the grid in a pilot intertidal wind farm in the Eastern province of Jiangsu. Meanwhile, deep inland, the desert province of Gansu is becoming the frontline of the country’s efforts toward a greener energy mix by massively investing in renewable energy, which includes the erection of wind turbines at the rate of more than one per hour.
As impressive as these figures and developments are, so far wind power generation accounts only for 1.5 percent of national power generation. However, China has a grand vision for wind energy. Such a long-term “big plan” is outlined into China’s Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050, a key-document recently issued by the Energy Research Institute of National Development and Reform Commission. The Roadmap foresees Chinese wind power capacity reaching 200 GW by 2020, 400 GW by 2030 and 1 000 GW by 2050, making up 17 percent of the country’s electricity consumption.
Assuming that the available technology will constantly improve and momentous resources will be allocated for scaling wind power up, the targets set by the document do not seem unrealistically ambitious. Nonetheless, achieving the supply curves indicated in the Roadmap is going to be a challenge even for a giant like China.
According to the Roadmap, if the marginal tariff for wind power is set at CNY 0.55/ kWh (excluding the long distance transmission cost), 700 GW could be installed around seven strategic areas before 2020. Until 2021, China will focus on onshore wind development and offshore wind power will remain at the start-up and organizational stages. From 2021 to 2030, land and offshore wind power will be synergically developed, and far offshore wind power will be launched. After 2030, China will continue to expand its land and offshore wind power capability on a massive scale. To meet such targets, the total investment in wind energy will be CNY 12,000 billion.
Advanced technologies will be widely employed, including highly efficient and cost-effective storage technologies and smart grids. Research and Development (R&D) are going to be the wings of the Chinese “Wind Dragon”. R&D will specifically focus on assessing wind resources (including forecasting), advanced wind turbines, wind farm construction and operation, etc. With time, investment costs per unit of wind power will gradually fall; the cost of wind power is expected to be the same as or close to the cost of coal power by 2020.
If the Roadmap will be followed and fulfilled, the environmental and social benefits for China will be considerable. Annual CO2 emission mitigation could be around 1.5 billion tonnes in 2050, and an estimated 720,000 jobs could be created. While many analysts keep a tunnel vision on China’s seemingly inexhaustible voracious appetite for the world’s hydrocarbon resources, a breezy green revolution appears to be on the way in the Celestial Kingdom.
Fabrizio Bozzato is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies – Tamkang University, Taiwan.