China looks to wind power to keep economy growing

Mandy Zuo
14 April 2010

China’s fast-growing economy demands ever more energy, and since the world’s factory is also the world’s biggest polluter, it is steaming ahead with developing renewable energy sources.

The drive to establish alternative energy supplies has seen the mainland overtake Germany to become the world’s second-largest wind power nation in terms of installed capacity, according to a report issued on Monday by the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry association.

China’s installed capacity totalled 25.9 gigawatts (GW) last year, second only to the United States, after it installed wind farms capable of generating 13.8 GW last year – a third of the world’s additional capacity.

He Dexin, director of the Chinese Wind Energy Association, forecast a total installed capacity of 100 to 150 GW by 2020.

With brisk growth in wind power installations expected to continue, some foreign industry players have called for steady, long-term policies from the government to ensure an orderly market.

Tulsi Tanti, chairman and managing director of Indian wind turbine supplier Suzlon Energy, said the central government had to make a long-term commitment of at least 10 years so that any company interested in wind power could plan ahead.

Tanti said the biggest obstacle to doing business in China was that “they are constantly changing the policy”. For instance, he said, China halted tax exemptions for imported wind turbines of less than 2.5 megawatts in May 2008, affecting the whole supply chain.

Suzlon is the world’s third-biggest wind turbine supplier and was the only international player in the Chinese market until three years ago.

Despite the wind industry’s remarkable growth, difficulties in connecting to the grid have long been a troubling sign. Asked about its plans for China, Tanti said: “We are not using the full capacity. We want to utilise that first before we expand.”

Chinese Wind Energy Association director He said a 750-kilovolt power transmission project started last year would provide grid connectivity for wind farms in Gansu and part of the wind capacity in Inner Mongolia would be connected to grids in northern China.

Despite the enormous potential, wind power accounts for less than 1 per cent of China’s total electricity consumption. The goal for 2020 is around 3 per cent, He said.

Besides traditional renewable energies like wind and solar, China has also been pushing ahead with clean-burning bio-fuel to achieve its commitment to a 40 per cent reduction in carbon intensity (from 2005 levels) by 2020.

Working in partnership with Danish ethanol developer Novozymes, oil and gas giant Sinopec and China’s largest food manufacturer and trader, Cofco, are planning large-scale commercial production of cellulosic ethanol, a second-generation bio-fuel produced from agricultural waste, in 2011.

The three companies signed an agreement to co-develop bio-fuel last year, under which Cofco will be responsible for feed-stock plantation and logistics, Novozymes will provide core technology, and Sinopec will be engaged in production, blending and distribution.

Novozymes launched the first commercially viable enzymes for production of bio-fuel from agricultural waste in February. Enzymes play an important role in converting bio-mass to ethanol.

When the technology is used in commercial biofuel production next year, the supply of biofuel will be increased by 25 per cent from now, Michael Fredskov Christiansen, Novozymes’s China president, said.

Biofuel is cheaper than oil and emits less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based fuels.

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