China already is one of the world’s major emitters of carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas implicated by scientists in global climate change.
China currently generates 792.5 gigawatts of electricity per year, mostly through coal-fired power plants, and that output is expected to grow by 10 percent per year, a team from Harvard University in Massachusetts and Tsinghua University in Beijing reported in the journal Science.
"China is bringing on several coal-fired power plants a week," Michael McElroy of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences said in a statement.
"By publicizing the opportunity for a different way to go, we hope to have a positive influence," McElroy said.
About 80 percent of China’s electricity comes from coal.
Wind energy accounts for just 0.4 percent of China’s total current electricity supply, but the country is quickly adding capacity.
China now trails only the United States, Germany and Spain in existing wind farms, the scientists said.
To study the potential of wind energy in China, the team used data from NASA, as well as global meteorological data collected from surface observations, aircraft, balloons, ships, buoys and satellites worldwide.
They found that a network of wind turbines operating at as little as 20 percent of their rated capacity could provide more than seven times China’s current electricity consumption.
To meet its growing energy demand with coal-fired plants, China could potentially increase the country’s carbon dioxide output to 3.5 gigatons a year, the scientists said.
The team calculates that the switch to wind power would cost China around $900 billion dollars at current prices over the same 20-year period.