China’s installed wind capacity is the second largest in the World, and their growth rates continue to dwarf those of developed nations. Yet wind energy still makes up a very small portion of Chinese energy production because 1/3 of it isn’t connected to the grid, and the other 2/3rds are heavily restricted. The problems hint at policy, management, and planning flaws. First, China’s prime wind real estate is in the North, and its main energy demand is in the South. Second, although China’s installed wind capacity grew by 113% over the last year, and now out ranks the US, 1/3 of this wind power cannot access the grid. Lastly, in Northeastern China alone, it is estimated that $5.4 billion USD worth of profits were lost last year due to installed wind capacity that was either not used or not grid-connected. So what’s happening behind these numbers?
China is a huge country, and within it lays one of the world’s richest wind energy hot spots. Inner Mongolia and Northern China house incredible wind resources, and very few people relative to the more populous south. As the Chinese population continues to grow and become increasingly industrialized, their energy demands have skyrocketed. One of the missing pieces of the renewables puzzle in terms of wind energy for China is connectivity. Transmission lines that transfer energy harvested from the wind-rich North to the energy-poor South are sparse and already functioning at full capacity.
Another major piece of the puzzle is wind energy management. In small local grids, like many located in the North of China, wind energy is a new and unpredictable source of energy. Operators are warned not to allow more than 10% of the grid capacity to come from wind power. Fears of the energy grids collapsing run rampant. Yet the new technology continues to be hooked up to small local stations that are not prepared nor educated in wind energy or mixed energy management. For example, Northern winters require the greatest amount of energy for heating and cooking. Yet, since wind is considered unstable relative to coal, it is severely restricted during the winter months. Ironic, since winter produces the best wind for harvesting of the year.
These two major issues, connectivity and management, both hinder China from reaching its desired renewables targets. They also point toward larger underlying issues concerning transmission line responsibility, authority over wind project approval, and Chinese energy policy. 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 nations.