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Energy answer's blowing in the wind

CHINA is planning to meet its 2020 clean energy target by building seven mega wind power bases with a combined capacity of more than 120 gigawatts, a capacity enough to meet the total needs of five cities the size of Shanghai.

The seven bases would make up the bulk of China's total wind capacity by 2020, estimated to be as large as 150GW.

"We don't have the capacity to follow in the footsteps of Europe, where wind projects are often decentralized and power is consumed where it is produced," said Shi Pengfei, vice president of the Chinese Wind Energy Association. "In China we have to rely on large-scale, long-distance transmission through power grids and build centralized wind projects to make the best use of wind power."

China's wind capacity grew to 12.2GW in 2008, ranking fourth in the world following the United States, Germany and Spain. Denmark, which ranked ninth, generates nearly a fifth of its electricity from wind turbines, the highest percentage of any country.

China's most prime regions for onshore wind farms are in areas where grid coverage is typically weakest and usually furthest from eastern coastal regions that are the nation's main energy consumers. Though installed wind capacity has doubled annually in the past three years, more than a quarter of the power was unconnected to the grid in 2008.

The gap has prompted industry experts to call for more comprehensive planning for wind farms, grid construction, as well as improvement in policy support.

Shi presented the details of the seven wind power bases at a wind forum in Shanghai earlier this week. The bases, each with a minimum capacity of 10GW, will be built in six provincial areas, from Xinjiang in the remote northwest to Inner Mongolia in the north, and Jiangsu Province on the east coast.

The plans for the seven bases are expected to be approved by the National Development and Reform Commission, the top industry planning agency, within the year, Shi said.

The government said in 2007 it wants 3 percent of China's electricity output to come from renewable sources, excluding hydropower, by 2020. Shi estimated that wind, as the most cost-competitive, needs to supply 210 billion kilowatt-hours of annual output by 2020 to help reach that target. The seven bases could generate 281 billion kwh, he said.

Offshore base

One of the seven bases is planned for Jiangsu which aims to build offshore windmills with combined capacity of 10GW by 2020. Originally 3GW of the 10GW was planned onshore, but local planner now decided to move all 10GW offshore, Shi said.

"Jiangsu could lead China in the offshore wind power field," said Xu Ruilin, an official of the province's renewable energy project office. The region's tidal flats offer favorable conditions for wind power, and Jiangsu is less affected by typhoon activity than other coastal provinces, he said. The province has a coastline extending 945 kilometers.

Nearly all China's wind farms in operation are onshore now, but the nation is venturing offshore to harvest more power. The nation's exploitable wind potential offshore is estimated at 750GW, about three times the land-based potential.

"A 2020 target capacity of 150GW needs support from the offshore sector," said Han Junliang, chairman of Sinovel Wind Co, China's leading wind turbine manufacturer.

The Beijing-based company is installing turbines for a 100MW plant near Shanghai's Donghai Bridge, which connects the city to the Yangshan Deep-Water Port in Hangzhou Bay on the southern edge of the city. The site, a demonstration project, will be China's first major offshore windmill farm, and is due to start operation before the World Expo opens next May.

Offshore wind farms typically cost more and require more technology know-how, which increases the risks for project investors.

Investor interests

Song Yanqing, a World Bank energy specialist, said the Chinese government should consider requiring grid companies to accept offshore wind power unconditionally in the initial stages of development to safeguard investor interests.

Both private companies and large state-owned companies are investors in the offshore wind projects in China at present. Global wind power industry leaders see a bright future in China's offshore sector. Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world's biggest turbine maker, will open an office for offshore business in China this year, Anders Soe-Jensen, president of Vestas Offshore, said on Monday.

"We see the Chinese offshore market as one of most important future wind energy markets in the world.

"Vestas is already talking to potential partners in China and is open to talk to any potential partners about offshore wind energy in China," he said.


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