Chinese Wind Power on the Rise

January 16, 2014


Wind power alone could provide electricity for all of China if the country overhauls its rural grids and raises the subsidy for wind energy, a new study finds.

China has rapidly become a global leader in wind energy and now ranks fourth in the world in installed capacity. But coal-fired power plants continue to supply most of the country’s rising electricity needs – a development path that scientists predict will lead to dangerous levels of climate change.

New models of China’s wind resources suggest that coal is not the only cost-effective energy option for the country. The winds blowing in China are powerful enough to generate low-carbon electricity that eliminates “much, if not all” of the power sector’s future greenhouse gas emissions, according to researchers from Harvard University and Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“We are trying to cut into the current defined demand for new electricity generation in China, which is roughly a gigawatt (GW) a week – or an enormous 50 GW per year,” said Michael McElroy, lead author of the study published in the current issue of Science, in a statement. “China is bringing on several coal-fired power plants a week. By publicizing the opportunity for a different way to go we will hope to have a positive influence.”

As China’s demand for electricity increases an estimated 10 percent each year, the country is projected to need an additional 800 GW of coal-generated electricity during the next 20 years. With current wind energy payments of 0.4 RMB (US$0.059) per kilowatt-hour, wind energy could displace 23 percent of coal-generated electricity. If so, China would eliminate as much as 0.62 gigatons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, or 9.4 percent of the country’s current annual emissions, the study said.

Wind energy could supply all of China’s 2030 electricity demands, however, if wind contract prices were increased to 0.516 RMB (US $0.076) per kilowatt-hour, the study said.


26 Responses to “Chinese Wind Power on the Rise”

  1. philip64 Says:

    Hopeful, but is this rate of progress really enough? I hope we will not look back one day and say it wasn’t…

  2. The abstract on the Science paper says “Received for publication 1 May 2009.”

    I thought the numbers looked a little funny, so I went digging.  I found this 2012 outlook which says

    the ratio of decentralized wind power has the potential to reach a maximum of 30%.

    And this:

    The completed programs have preliminarily identified an offshore wind energy resources development potential of 43GW.

    In an article dated 30-Nov-2012, Cleantechnica says China will have 150 GW installed by 2015.  However, at 30% capacity factor that’s only 45 GW average, about 5% of China’s current 800 GW generation.

    This OECD publication says China’s wind power capacity (not production, capacity) may hit 1000 GW by 2050.  It says “Wind power … will meet
    17% of electricity demand.”  Since reducing China’s emissions by 80% relative to historic levels probably requires that 90+% of this generation be carbon-free, there’s no less than 73% left to go.  Hydro won’t do it; the Three Gorges Dam is only rated at 22.5 GW, and can probably only generate an average of a fraction of this.  So what’s left?

    If so, China would eliminate as much as 0.62 gigatons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, or 9.4 percent of the country’s current annual emissions, the study said.

    Pathetically small.

    Wind energy could supply all of China’s 2030 electricity demands, however, if wind contract prices were increased to 0.516 RMB (US $0.076) per kilowatt-hour, the study said.

    That smells funny, so I dug back into the inputs from the press release:

    The analysis indicated that a network of wind turbines operating at as little as 20 percent of their rated capacity could provide potentially as much as 24.7 petawatt-hours of electricity annually, or more than seven times China’s current consumption.

    24.7 PWh is 2.82 TW average, or 14.1 TW capacity at 20% capacity factor.  That is 7 MILLION 2 megawatt turbines, and it assumes good sites without major wind-shadowing.  It also implies massive amounts of storage, transmission for the full peak power (unless stored at or near the farms), and many other things.

    Would you bet the climate on this?  I wouldn’t.

    • jimbills Says:

      “Would you bet the climate on this? I wouldn’t.”

      Neither would I. We’re completely deceiving ourselves here.

      Case in point:
      “As China’s demand for electricity increases an estimated 10 percent each year, the country is projected to need an additional 800 GW of coal-generated electricity during the next 20 years. With current wind energy payments of 0.4 RMB (US$0.059) per kilowatt-hour, wind energy could displace 23 percent of coal-generated electricity. If so, China would eliminate as much as 0.62 gigatons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, or 9.4 percent of the country’s current annual emissions, the study said.”

      That sounds really good, and that might indeed happen, but it’s conveniently sidestepping that coal energy production will also rise (as would total emissions) – as only 23 percent of future and rising usage would be displaced. China is expected to at least double its energy consumption before 2030:

      And that’s with a 5% growth rate – not 10% as mentioned in this report.

      The “9.4 percent of the country’s current annual emissions” figure fails to account for growth to give a real estimate for the annual emissions in 2030, and even at 9.4 percent it is way too low to make a significant difference, anyway.

      “Wind energy could supply all of China’s 2030 electricity demands, however, if wind contract prices were increased to 0.516 RMB (US $0.076) per kilowatt-hour, the study said.”

      So, raise the price of wind energy by a couple of pennies more per kwh than the plan to offset 1/4 of future coal consumption and suddenly wind provides ALL Chinese energy demand by 2030? Sorry, but that’s an outright lie.

      As for whether or not there is enough actual wind in China – that’s probably true. It’s likely true that it has enough sun, too. But that’s a totally different thing than what actually will happen. The technical, political, and economic difficulties are enormous, and they only rise with growth (at 5% or at 10%).

  3. China’s electric power generation is a deep issue, not easily characterized. China’s growth rates have resulted in blackouts in the early 2000s. It is the largest energy consumer in the world. It’s 10 % growth rate is reaching practical limits. That’s a 7 year doubling. In 70 years that is 1000x. It won’t happen, no matter what source(s) are used. At the moment, China is embracing western style growth and consumption as a virtue, but nature is punishing. As China develops from third world to first world, it experiences the same pattern of limits experienced by all other nations. Unbridled growth, pollution limits, response to pollution, reduced growth, and near equilibrium. China has just entered the pollution phase. Arguing about what sources will fulfill mindless exponential growth is useless. Nothing will. We should be discussing what are the limits to growth and what scenarios fulfill a sustainable future. FYI, switching back and forth between installed capacity and generated energy produces incorrect and inaccurate results. If you calculate the national combined capacity factor for 2010, it comes out to 40 %. Why? Because a large portion of capacity is reserve needed for peaks. A statistic that shows wind could supply energy needs is not the same as a study showing feasibility of high renewable penetration. There are many such studies. The IEA study assumes China energy growth doubles by 2050. Not with 10% annual growth. But if you want some insight into how sustainability might happen in China, perhaps you would do better to look at this Harvard study.

  4. Try this. Calculate the rate of growth necessary to develop clean sources to replace coal at China’s current demand growth of 10% by 2050 assuming coal is 100%. You already know the replacement source has to grow faster than 10 %. For 10% annual rate, how much does energy use grow by 2050?

    • I know nothing in the clean-energy realm that can continue to grow at 10%/yr once it’s reached significant scale.  (It’s trivial to grow something tiny to something that’s dozens or hundreds of times bigger, but still tiny.)  My favorite nuclear scheme for rapid growth, the LFTR, has an economic limit of about 1.07 breeding ratio (1.05 is considerably easier).  With a fissile inventory equal to annual consumption, this is 5-7% per year growth and 10-14 year doubling time.

      The one saving grace is that nothing in the real world follows a pure exponential curve; it always winds up turning into something like a logistic curve.  China may already have reached its limits because of pollution, facing problems turning on new capacity because it kills the people who’d use the power.  That gives everything else a fighting chance to catch up.

      • China is already facing limits to growth and persists with the fantasy of expansion. Will deadly smog stop them? Not yet. They substituted the fantasy that clean power will clean their skies, but strangely, they plan to increase coal also. ( they must increase coal, because while clean power grows, demand grows also) At the same time, their motive for reducing coal is energy independence from foreign sources. Sound familiar? It’s running in place on a tread mill. So far, although there is talk of pollution and co2 reduction, there seems little understanding of what growth has to do with it. The impression given is that the thinking is not of one mind. Which all means China will develop every available resource, growing as fast as possible,until it is choked off by limits. No different than anywhere else, even though it has a controlled economy. The societal and physical feedback limits have just started. IMO, China cannot achieve significant growth until it enters the next phase of clean energy. China will advance clean tech. But right now, they are talking clean, and approving more coal.
        There is a circular answer that China economy keeps growing, so coal use keeps growing. Maybe both will slow with pollution. Tourism will.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          the limits to China’s growth are here now. water is critical. the social unrest due to pollution is bringing thousands of people into the street. talk of continued coal expansion seems fantastical.

          • Precisely. Perhaps thats why there are so many conflicting pronouncements coming out of China re growth. Today they talk about a bad year being 7%. A few years ago, China was way down the list. In a short few decades it has become the worlds largest energy consumer. Our oil use can’t gobble four more Saudi Arabias, tho we are trying with tar sands, and China cannot consume 4 times the coal, particularly when the air is not breathable today. Whats the pollution impact in lost days of productivity?

      • Take a look at the latest from Peter on solar. Doubling every 2 years. Wind also has very high growth rates. Both of them can keep up with growth rates well over 10 %.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Well, I have a mild concussion from bonking my head on a massive rock i was walking under when hiking Monday, but I’ll have a go at it:

      let’s start at 2015 to 2050 because Wolfram won’t let me do anything higher than 35 years without signing up for more computation time.

      let 100% coal = 1; that way I can work in terms of multiples of 1.

      growth of new energy at 10% for 35 years means you end up with 28.1 times more energy than you started with.

      phasing out coal over that same period means you need to add 1 more multiple to your final multiple to account for adding in what’s being lost based on your starting multiple of 1, so 28.1 + 1 = 29.1

      29.1 = (1 + x)^35; thus x=0.101 or 10.1%

      That seems intuitively small as coal by itself would have a phase-out rate of 2% for the given time (if you are considering an exponentially driven phase-out curve). But I guess that’s the odd work of exponential functions. Plus 10% a year is very, very high; unbelievably high.

  5. andrewfez Says:

    =As China’s demand for electricity increases an estimated 10 percent each year, the country is projected to need an additional 800 GW of coal-generated electricity during the next 20 years.=

    China used 5,000 TWh in 2012. What’s that like 0.571 TW (571GW) happening, on average, for the year? That’s already a monster grid. And they want 800GW more? I’m assuming when they say ‘800GW of coal-gen electricity’, they mean the equivalent of that amount in nominal grid capacity (or maybe I’m just being hopeful).

    Going from 571 to 1,371 over 20 years is more like a 4.5% compound annual growth rate, based on my rough assumptions (i.e. 571GW average ~ 571GW grid; which is a crappy assumption, I know; so consider the GAGR may be smaller). It may be 10% presently, but I would expect that to fizzle out, along with their GDP growth rate at some point when they convert to a more mature market, per historical economic trends.

    • Your calculations are about right. The problem should be stated better like this. What is the growth rate necessary for clean energy to be 100% of total energy in 2050 if clean energy is 10% of total energy in 2015, while total demand grows at 4.5%. Apologies for the lack of clarity. Since the total energy is just given by growth, it’s independent of what kind of energy. For purposes of our experiment, 4.5% is doubling every 16 years. That’s close to 4x in 35 years from 2015 to 2050. What I left out was how big is current clean energy. Let’s take 10% energy at year 2015. That’s 40x growth to match demand in 2050. How many doublings is 40x? About 5 and change. 35/5 equals a 7 year doubling. A 7 year doubling is about 10% annual rate. The approximation is 72/rate equals the doubling period, good for rates below 10%. The rates and initial values can be varies accordingly. I am sure a formula can be made for this, but it is really just two FV ( future value) calculations. See how much difference the total growth rate and initial value make? As noted, real world growth reaches limits. Hubbert is an interesting study of that. We should take a look at that, because China is heading straight for it, and world coal reserves are fairly well known. We are in new territory here, because we have never seen a country limited by so many factors at once – pollution, GW, water, metals…..hubbert was made for one at time.

      • Another kicker is that powerplants are usually designed for 50-year lifespans.  Each coal-fired plant that China completes this year is expected to run (and consume coal, and belch CO2) until 2064 at the earliest, because Beijing doesn’t plan to build major assets only to abandon them.

        • The calculations are for them abandoning coal plants, but it really does not make much sense. You would hope they would brighten up and realize coal plants are useless. There is an internal conflict there. They are talking cleaning up, but committing to more coal at the same time. Doesn’t make sense. Not of one mind. They want the growth, but are pretending it can happen despite the consequences.

      • andrewfez Says:

        =About 5 and change.=

        That’s pretty good; I can’t wrap my head around how you did that, but nonetheless, it’s good.

        Using my method:


        Since there’s already 10% clean energy, then just add 0.9 to the multiple (i.e. 90% fossil)


        x=0.0502 or 5%

        I tried another method on the plane for 100% coal, but I got stuck on one step and couldn’t figure it out:

        1) find the integral of the dy(t)/dt=(1.045)^t; then subtract t=35 from t=0 to get the area under the curve
        2) let the coal phase out be y=mt+b; where the area is just 1*35*1/2
        3) Subtract the two areas from steps 1 and 2
        4) Here’s where I got stuck: I needed some way to convert the resulting area back to a multiple that would make sense for the CAGR function. I tried just taking the square root; but that gave me the erroneous answer of a little above 6%. I suppose now that we have the right answer I could reverse engineer the constant or function needed, especially if i took a survey of different made-up rates.

        Sometimes it’s best just to let the computer programers do the heavy lifting, since reality isn’t going to follow perfect functions anyway…

        • Andrew – it’s not 4.66 + 0.9. Make it 4.66/0.1, I think. I used gross estimates. I use 4 not 4.66 and 32 not 46.6. Sorry, I used your result, but I did not check the math well enough. So let’s do this. Let’s make it simpler. Use 3.2x for the end point and 35 years. You can do the math for your other case once you follow this. For 3.2x and 10%, clean growth is 32x. 32 is 2 to the power 5, so 5 doublings. So all we need to do is find out the rate that corresponds to 5 doublings in 35 years, or 35/5=7 year doubling. The rule of thumb is 72/ r is the doubling period, where r is interest. You want something for a computer, though,not compute rate from PV and FV ( present and future value).
          FV = PV(1+r)^n, where r is rate, n is period , so

          Log n (FV/PV)=1+r

          Or [log n (FV/PV)]-1 = r Voila.

          Now you can plug any FV/PV and n and compute r, our goal.
          You can use the FV formula to compute the endpoint.
          Happy computing and good luck.
          Here are some references. This guy is awesome. Skip to the parts you want or watch when you have time. FYI, later you can get into the constant e.

  6. Gingerbaker Says:

    China also has the Gobi desert, lots of sunshine, and government-aided PV manufacturing plants sitting idle. They could make enough PV power in the Gobi to power the entire planet if they wanted to.

    It’s amazing how simple the problem looks when one just starts thinking about building and deploying new renewable.

    • You’re right. There are lots of resources. The question is, are they going to grow their consumption to ginormous levels using non renewables first and then collapse down to sustainable levels, or are they going to see the light and plan on orderly slower growth to get to a sustainable equilibrium? What I don’t see is an orderly plan to get to sustainability like what you see in EU, US, Aus, etc.

    • Take a look at the latest CC on solar photovoltaic growth. That could do the job. Doubling every two years. Incredible.

  7. The prognostications show as much as 1000 GW of wind, lots of solar (they are the main source of all the cheap PV in Germany and US), geothermal, biomass, hydro, and nuclear. Thats more than enough sources for today. Problem is unrestricted growth. There are limits to all of them and one can certainly surmise a sustainable, zero growth endpoint with limits dictated by sustainable resources. Problem is, thats not what they are dong right now. We have an economic model a la Smith that says, just set the economic rules and let the individuals go in motion based on self interest and it will all be OK. As Alan Greenspan recently admitted, that didn’t work out so well. We might as well be fruit flies in a Klein bottle with a lump of sugar, or bacteria. What we need? A Kyoto that works. Evidence that we are human and plan our future collectively and consciously. What’s it gonna be? Human? or bacteria?

  8. Gingerbaker Says:

    “. Thats more than enough sources for today. Problem is unrestricted growth”

    That’s your mantra.

    Problem is, there aren’t any renewable sources yet.

    My mantra is: let’s get busy building and deploying. And see if growth takes care of itself along the way. self-limiting or mandated.

    After all – this is China. They had (have?) a one child per family policy – which is brave as hell, and would be nice if everyone followed. In a couple of hundred years, populations could be down to reasonable levels.

    We can be in good shape in 200 years. But only if we start building and deploying now.

    Jacobson and Delucchi say we need:

    3,800,000 5MW wind turbines, 49,000 300MW concentrated solar plants, 40,000 300MW solar PV powerplants, 1.7 billion 3kW rooftop PVsystems, 5350 100MW geothermal powerplants, 270 new 1300MW hydroelectric powerplants, 720,0000.75MW wavedevices,and 490,000 1MW tidal turbines to power a 2030 WWS world.

    That’s one gigantic s***load of new projects to build. And, as usual, we are sitting on our hands.

    • China does not have a J and C that I have seen yet. We are not following J and C here either, but somewhat better. I am impatient like you, but I have been waiting longer. Totally agree with lets get busy now. Thing is, its an Adam Smith world. That the one where you fiddle with the economic dials and hope individuals do the right thing. They are not to my satisfaction. I am somewhere in the middle on hopes for the future. Somewhere between J and C and whatshisname that believes we are doomed and the surface of the earth will be Venus by 2100. Thats irresponsible crap. Whats the point? If we are still here, we will have to do something. Point is that Adam Smith stuff is not working. There has to be some planning. Maybe not perfect, but yes, lets get going. For now, all I see is some planning, some central push, but not as much as I like. So since it does not work that way, I have to settle for the status quo economics that still manages to push coal out. The frustration everyone has is that the economics does not work well enough, and the subsidy coal gets as someone wryly noted was “to use the atmosphere as a cesspool.” My frustration with the busy deploying now is, wheres the Kyoto with teeth? When I see some real action, I will start having hope for that. Instead what I see is NGOs and grassroots doing the real dirty work. I think thats where real hope lies. The exception is EU governments. For a fractionated region that never agrees on anything they are doing a helluva better job than US.

      • andrewfez Says:

        Coal’s been on the dole since 1950-51 when the government decided that mine owners would not be taxed at normal income/profit tax rates but would be given a special ‘royalty’ rate to keep them from suffering the huge income tax rates at the time due to the Korean war. That was back in the day when the masters of mankind realized that if you’re going to fight an expensive war, you actually need to raise tax rates to pay for it.

        Before that, coal benefited from land giveaways (both to coal and railroad industries) and charters to exploit the American landscape. If we coddled renewables like we did fossil energy in the early days, there would be less of a problem. Imagine land giveaways to wind companies, so they don’t have to pay lease money to farmers.

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