The Strategy Behind China’s Wind Numbers

Despite surpassing the US’s installed wind capacity in 2010, 1/3rd of China’s installed wind capacity is not connected to the grid. China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) claims it will prioritize connectivity over renewables growth in its upcoming 5-year plan. The NEA has made public its focus on strategic wind energy growth through more hands-on energy polciy and management on the national level. The key areas of connectivity, project approval, and balancing present vs. new investors will take center stage over the next five years of Chinese wind development, according to the NEA.

Since the wind-rich North of China is far from the Central and South populations where energy demand is on the rise, the NEA is focusing on grid connectivity. It is not yet clear whether they will provide incentives for the State Grid Corporation or the smaller provincial energy networks to install additional trnasmission lines from the North to large energy stations across China. The is a necessary and strategic step if the Chinese government plans on connecting pre-installed wind capacity. Although the 5-year plan has not been released as of yet, some also speculate that wind energy and education for provincial locations like the North will be incorporated to help them better utilize and manage wind energy for their energy-intensive winters.

After reviewing the large number of underutilized or unconnected wind projects, the government found a wealth of projects with 49.5 MW capacities, 0.5 MW below the amount necessary for government approval. Project approval regulation is expected to increase to help guide strategic wind investments and pacify the frustration of wind developers. Several wind developers have expressed frustration and pointed fingers at local governments and grid companies for luring them into unconnected projects. Reducing this frustration and creating discouraging regulation for future wind develoeprs have been named as NEA priorities that may surface in the 5-year plan.

Although this is a China-specific renewables issue, the world at large will be severely affected by the decision and policy that takes place over the next five years regarding China’s cleantech industry. In 2009, the World Resources Institute found that 70% of all of China’s energy came from coal, which is a huge contributor to climate change. When the Kyoto Protocol was signed and ratified in China, the country was classified as a developing that did not have to adhere to the greenhouse gas reduction criteria. Since China has overtaken the US in emissions over the last few years and is projected to grow enormously over the next five years, its energy mix of greenhouse gas contributors and renewables is crucial to the world’s development.

China has promised a 40-45% reduction in energy intensity by 2020, based on 2005 levels. Yet there is strong criticism over whether this is attainable given China’s growth rates and continued dependence on coal. In 2009, China invested $34.5 billion USD in cleantech investments, which is nearly double the US investments. With a 113%  growth in just the last year in installed wind capacity, connecting these wind projects to the grid and making their energy usable year round will be critical if China intends to lead in the cleantech sector. They currently lead in investment and installation numbers across the board, but have failed to lead on energy in use.

Some suspect the NEA’s increased involvement and the difference in installed vs. generated wind to hint at a turning point in Chinese development strategy. China may be maturing beyond growth based purely on numbers, and instead analyzing growth by strategic value toward the country and possibly the world. Given the guarded nature of information about statistics and strategy within China, the next few years will demonstrate whether the country will become a global leader that takes cleantech and environmental impact seriously, or considers pure energy growth by numbers their primary objective.

This series on Chinese Wind Energy will take a closer look at the wind energy issues specific to China, as it relates to climate change and models for wind-rich developing countries.

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Tiffany Finley started her sustainability journey while camping in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. Since then she has been dedicated to reconciling the industrial and the natural world views to create a hybridized mode of development toward sustainability. Majoring in Environmental Management in the US and then obtaining a Master's of Science in Strategic Leadership toward Sustainability in Sweden, she takes an analytical view based on science. She works with non-profits, small to medium businesses, and government organizations to strategize for sustainability in their respective sectors. Honored to join the writing cast at Triple Pundit, she looks forward to covering a wide range of sustainability news.