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China's wind capacity could reach 300GW by 2020, study claims

China’s installed wind capacity could reach up to 300GW by 2020, predicts a new report.

The figure – higher than any previous forecasts – underlines that the Chinese market is still on a path of rapid growth, despite significant challenges that have slowed expansion over the past year and eroded profits across the industry.

Compiled by Greenpeace, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA), and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the report follows a similar study published two years ago that forecast China’s installed capacity could reach 230GW by 2020.

The new forecast – of 200-300GW by 2020 and more than 400GW by 2030 – is dependent on some policy changes, however.

These include several measures to improve take-up of wind power by the electricity grid to resolve the severe problem of curtailment.

Although the percentage of wind farms connected to the grid improved last year, grid curtailment of power produced worsened, affecting 10 billion kWh of wind power in surveyed regions – or 12% of their total wind output.

The problem is most severe in eastern Inner Mongolia and Jilin, where curtailment levels passed 20%.

“Curtailment cuts the wind sector’s profits by half,” says the report, and caused losses last year of at least 5bn yuan ($792m).

It calls for the implementation of a renewable energy quota, currently under discussion by the government, which will require grid operators to absorb a certain percentage of renewable energy in their portfolio.

It also urges the strengthening of grid infrastructure and management to ensure that the grid can better handle diverse energy sources.

“This must be achieved with improvements from both ends of the market: wind farms need to be more power-grid friendly and the power grid needs to be more wind-power friendly,” notes the report.

Industry insiders have complained about grid operators’ reluctance to add more wind power, but a new quota system would require them to reach certain targets.

However, grid operators also need compensation to invest in additional management systems, another area that government must look into, adds the Greenpeace report.

Finally it points to the role of local governments in developing renewable resources, particularly in the areas with high power consumption in central and eastern China.

“Localised power market systems should be built up with wind power as an organic part of their power supply.”

Chinese wind developers are already looking increasingly at such areas as they turn away from the traditional wind bases in the north that suffer the worst curtailment.

Although the northern provinces still saw the fastest expansion last year – Inner Mongolia added 28% of the nation’s total, or 3.7GW, maintaining its position as the country’s leading wind region – other less developed regions are growing rapidly too.

They include Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan in the south as well as Shaanxi, Henan and Anhui in China’s central and eastern areas, all of which doubled installed capacity in 2011.

In addition, “coastal regions such as Shandong, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Fujian all passed the 1GW milestone, forming a group of tier-2 wind power development provinces following the ‘Sanbei’ [the three northern areas with most developed wind capacity] region,” it adds.

“If everything goes well, within one generation wind power has the potential to become a prominent player in China’s energy portfolio,” says Li Junfeng, secretary general of CREIA.