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Grids need to tap wind power

CHINA'S rapidly expanding wind power industry is far outstripping the capacity of grids to distribute renewable energy to power users, with planners urging a more systematic approach to development of the industry.

Installed wind capacity in China more than doubled to 12,210 megawatts in 2008, according to the Belgium-based Global Wind Energy Council.

However, the China Electricity Council says grids handled only 8,940MW of wind-generated electricity last year, pointing to an untapped energy gap of about 3,270MW. Worse, that gap doubled in one year.

"China's wind power sector is now like a highway crowded with vehicles," said Dai Huizhu, a professor at China Electric Power Research Institute. "The number of cars keeps increasing, but there aren't enough lanes to handle them."

Dai said more investment is needed to strengthen the ability of China's grid system to incorporate wind-generated electricity if the fledgling sector is to help reduce the nation's dependence on polluting fuels.

China's installed wind capacity has been doubling annually for the past four years, underpinned by an aggressive government policy supporting renewable energy.

New capacity could double again this year, with China overtaking the United States as the world's largest market for new installations, said Li Junfeng, secretary general of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association and deputy head of the energy research institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, the top planner.

Priority access

At that pace, China could have 30,000MW in installed wind capacity in 2010, 10 years ahead of an earlier government target.

China's renewable energy law requires that renewable energy should be given priority access to the grid, yet the rule is not being followed due to the physical constraints of grid capacity.

Wind is now considered one of the most competitive forms of renewable energy in terms of costs, although falling raw material prices and rising production have reduced the prices for solar cells.

Grid operators, who still rely on coal-fired power, have been reluctant to connect their grids to windmill farms because they say supply is unstable, requiring additional services and back-up sources during days when winds aren't blowing.

Another problem is that the most prime regions for new wind farms are located in remote northern, northwestern and southeastern parts of the country where grid coverage is weakest.

"The problem is serious,'' Dai told a symposium in Beihai in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. "Wind farms cannot fully release their potential if grid capacity can't handle their output."

She said the government needs to adopt more detailed technical standards for the industry and implement management rules to handle the gap.

At a state energy meeting earlier this year, Zhang Guobao, director of the National Energy Administration, pledged that China will do more studies on how to connect wind farms to grids to optimize long-distance transmission of power and its allocation.

China plans to build mega-windmill farms in Gansu, Hebei and Jiangsu provinces and in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and connect them to grids on a large scale, according to the state plan.

Qi Hesheng, secretary general of the wind power machinery branch of the China Association of Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers, said wind farms can't be built willy-nilly but must be concentrated in areas where adequate grids are installed.

Long-term plan vital

"We need to have a long-term plan," Qi stressed, speaking at the same Beihai symposium.

The government has set a goal to generate 15 percent of its power consumption from renewable sources by 2020, though most will come from hydropower projects.

Wind is nonetheless considered critical to achieving the overall target, as other renewable sources such as solar and bio-energy are expected to be only small players in that strategy, industry officials have said.

Power equipment manufacturing companies face increased competition from domestic and overseas rivals in the race to supply the wind power industry.

"It's crystal clear that competition is just starting," Qi said. "There are a lot of players angling for a piece of the action. I fear supply has exceeded demand. At the same time, foreign manufacturers have also turned their attention to China after the financial crisis hurt demand in Europe."

Domestic companies claimed 73 percent of the domestic market in 2008, up from 56 percent in 2007, according to a KGI Securities report. That rise was credited to their low-priced and high-efficiency equipment.

But the combined market share of China's top five wind turbine manufacturers, including Sinovel Wind Co, Xinjiang Goldwind Sci & Tech Co and Dongfang Electric Corp, shrank to 75 percent last year from 91 percent in 2006, KGI said, suggesting the higher role of new industry entrants, such as Shanghai Electric Group.

Shanghai Electric, a traditional maker of heavy machinery and transport equipment, is building a 143-million-yuan (US$20.9 million) manufacturing base in Lingang, Pudong New Area for wind turbines, which will join its existing one in Minhang District. It aims to generate 14 billion yuan in annual sales in five years from the wind sector.


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