Posted by: Frederik Balfour on April 28, 2009
China’s environmental record gets plenty of bad press—-toxic lakes, contaminated rivers, cities enshrouded in a permanent haze of smog—-so here is some good news for a change: the Global Wind Energy Council says that China will add more wind power capacity this year than any other country, including the U.S. It could add 10 gigawatts [10,000 megawatts] of additional capacity this year, while the U.S. will only add 8.5 gigawatts.
That’s a lot of juice, considering that one megawatt can power about 1,000 households in the west, probably a lot more in China, where household power consumption is still quite modest.
This is indeed an important milestone for China’s renewable energy business, especially considering the Middle Kingdom is currently so dependent on coal. About 70% of its power is thermal generated, which is the main reason why China is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the world. But the country saw wind power capacity double last year to 12 GW while the U.S. had about 25 GW of capacity.
Much of China’s new capacity will come from home-grown makers of wind turbines who are gaining market share on industry stalwarts such as Vestas of Denmark, the world’s largest wind turbine maker, and General Electric. Both companies have manufacturing plants in China but their local competitors, Xinjiang Goldwind, Sinovel Wind and Dong Fang Electric are expanding rapidly.
One challenge for China, however, is that most of its wind energy capacity is located a long way from the source of demand. When I visited a wind farm called Huitengxile in Inner Mongolia, we had to travel two and half hours by car out of the capital, Hohhot, and then make the final sojourn on horseback. An equally windy part of China is the northwest province of Xinjiang, and hence a great place for wind turbines. But it’s about 4000 kilometers away from China’s east coast, where most of the energy demand is.
Still, power companies are bullish on China. China Light & Power, which produces virtually all its power supplied to Hong Kong by burning coal, has finally found green religion. Today after its annual shareholders meeting the company told reporters China was ripe with opportunities for investing in wind power.