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October 27, 2009

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Pioneer taps into wind power

TO most people interested in the wind game in China, Shi Pengfei is well known. He was a pioneer in the country's grid-connected wind power development, a key mover of China's first Renewable Energy Law, and has been widely recognized for frankness that earned him great respect industry wide.

Shi, vice president of the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA), can answer almost all questions about the wind power market and policies in China, despite being retired for nearly a decade.

Born in 1940 in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, Shi's association with wind power was quite accidental. As physics was a favorite subjects, he was recruited to a training team for gliders at a senior high school. But he missed only by a hair to qualify for the First National Student's Sports Meet in 1959 and brought home a second-grade sportsman certificate.

Although he applied for an aviation-related college major, a discipline widely associated with national defense, it was turned down as his family was found to have relatives in Taiwan, a "renegade rival" according to the mentality then.

As luck had it, Shi was admitted as a machine designing major and was assigned to work in the remote western province of Qinghai after graduation.

In 1980, when Shi was director of the technology and intelligence section at Xining Research Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering for High Altitude, he joined a two-year overseas training program sponsored by the Ministry of Education to study wind energy applications in the Netherlands.

It was at Delft University of Technology and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands that Shi got acquainted with the early leading technology of wind power and was involved in the testing of a 300kw experimental wind turbine generator as well as wind-farm construction.

He spent the last half year in Reading University, the United Kingdom, thanks to his command of English, studying a wind-diesel hybrid power system computer modeling.

Returned to Qinghai in 1984, Shi started working for the newly established Chinese Wind Energy Development Center under the State Commission of Science and Technology. In 1986 he first saw to a Sino-Belgian governmental project to build one of the country's earliest wind farms in Pingtan, Fujian Province. Later he participated in a Sino-UK governmental project building a wind/diesel hybrid power system on an island near Yantai, Shandong Province.

In 1996, Shi, then 55, was put in charge of the New Energy Division of China Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group, which was entrusted to handle preliminary work, such as planning and feasibility studies, for the country's wind power development.

China's development of grid-connected wind power debuted in the mid-1980s. Shi was one of the pioneers who closely followed every stage. Regarded as an authority in the field, his advice on wind power policies and technologies was sought and considered by both decision-makers and company managers.

In 1998, Shi started to compile a record of wind farm installations across China, with up-to-date figures straight from developers and manufacturers, plus his own on-site information gathering, to ensure accuracy. He had visited almost all important wind farms or turbine plants in China, including Taiwan. The data was then shared widely. For years these were the only reliable figures for the sector.

Due to its high cost, wind energy utilization proceeded rather slowly in the 1990s and China failed to meet the millennium goal of 1,000mw in wind installation. The solution, Shi says, lay in developing the domestic turbine-manufacturing industry and building wind farms on a big scale.

In 2003, the government started to offer tenders for building and franchised operation of big wind farms. Domestic manufacturers mushroomed, with a combined market share of 44.8 percent by installation at the end of 2007, against the 22.7 percent two years earlier.

Though he welcomed the tendering of franchises, which had contributed to the scale development of wind farms, Shi did not favor the rules of the game, which awarded franchises to the bidder offering the lowest grid feed-in rates of electricity.

The rule changed at last in 2007 in the fifth round of tenders.

As veteran wind power consultant, Shi played an essential role in drafting China's first Renewable Energy Law, which came into force on January 1, 2006. He proposed, among other things, a fixed rate of feed-in tariff of wind power and pressed for full amount purchase of wind power by grid operators.

The former was not adopted in the law, while wind energy prices formulated lately by the government for different regions were more or less to the same effect.

For the upcoming revision of the Renewable Energy Law, Shi is pushing for more incentives to grid operators.

"If the grid companies continue to turn a cold shoulder to wind power, the full purchase would be lip service," Shi says, adding that the compulsory green quota on energy companies also needs to be more detailed for implementation.

As the number of domestic manufacturers of wind facilities increased to nearly 80 in 2008, and China's cumulative installations grew to 5,900mw in 2007, the target for 2020 had been lifted from the initial 30,000mw to probably 100,000mw. Shi is concerned that small manufacturers would be weak in R&D capability and that China is not ready for that many turbines.

"It's no use to erect turbines that don't work or produce little electricity. Performance should be measured by the output of wind-generated electricity, rather than megawatts of installations. The industry is overheated. The mechanism of government decision-making on wind issues is not so scientific," Shi warns in his usual outspoken manner.

"An expert should be free of business interests. He should put forward proposals based entirely on industrial development," he says.

"Over the years Shi has advocated speeding up wind power development in China. But he threw a damp blanket when he thought the sector went overheated," says Li Junfeng, secretary-general of Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA), who has known Shi since 1984. He regarded Shi as the kind of person who spotted problems in the sector well ahead of others.

"That guy is always right," agrees James Penny, general manager of Wind Prospect China in his 2007 interview with the Denmark-published journal, Windpower Monthly.

Returning from the Netherlands, Shi has translated into Chinese "Wind Power Plants Theory and Design" by French author Desire Le Gourieres. Later he published a number of papers on China's wind power development. He co-authored the book "Wind Power Generation" and was a long-standing member of the board of advisers for China's major industry publication, Wind Power. Shi made important contributions to the China contents of the Wind Force 12 series, which is well known in the industry.

Born a sports person, Shi has overcome many harsh natural conditions that were part of the wind game, braving wild winds and wading through chilly water in winter to choose a site for a wind farm, more often than not, in a remote area.

Retired in 2001, Shi was no less busy, traveling extensively across China and the world. As deputy president of CWEA, he led a delegation to Taiwan in January 2007 for non-governmental exchanges with wind experts on the island. About one year earlier, during an official visit to Cuba, Fidel Castro showed Shi his personal collections of electrical appliances.

"Professor, you're a wind expert. I am an electricity saving expert," notes the Cuban leader.

Approaching 70, Shi still rides a bicycle to and from work, pedaling for 14km and 50 minutes each way.

"Once I leave the office, I think nothing about work. I do sightseeing along the way," he says.


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