China getting ready to overtake US as wind energy leader

Many developments in China can only be described in superlatives, and wind power is no exception. When I first visited Beijing to attend the ministerial Beijing Renewable Energy Conference (BIREC) in 2005, the city looked very different, and so did the wind energy industry.

Back then, China only had around 1,000 MW of installed wind farm capacity, and when the government used the conference to announce its target of reaching 30 GW of wind farm capacity by 2020, this seemed nearly insanely ambitious.

And yet, a mere five years later, China has already achieved this target, 10 years early. Not only that – industry experts predict that at least 40 GW worth of wind turbines will be operating in China by the end of this year; possibly more.

Given the current difficult situation in the US, there is even a distinct possibility that the world’s largest economy would have to cede its place as leading wind power country to China at the end of December this year. If that doesn’t happen, it almost certainly will in 2011.

What explains the dramatic growth of wind power in China? Genuine political commitment is certainly the deciding factor, something the US has been lacking to date.

In 2005, the Chinese government passed the Renewable Energy law, which attracted both foreign and domestic investors to flock into the market.

Nearly all large European, US and Indian wind turbine manufacturers established themselves in China to secure a piece of the (very large) cake. But China now also counts more than 30 domestic wind turbine manufacturers, three of which are now among the world’s leading suppliers, as well as an entire supply chain serving the industry.

As a result, the mood at the China Wind Power 2010 conference and exhibition in Beijing was very positive. With around 500 exhibitors and more than 10,000 daily visitors, there was a clear sense that wind power was here to stay and that both government and industry were determined to continue pushing for further expansion.

The industry in China has ambitious plans for expanding its onshore wind power capacity, and is now seriously looking at opportunities offshore, with an estimated 17 GW in the pipeline.

In some regions of China, such as Inner Mongolia, wind power already satisfies more than 7% of the electricity demand — more than in Germany.

Yet if parts of China resemble parts of Europe in terms of wind power share, it also, just like Europe, faces the need to tackle the grids issue. The fact that China is investing close to US$600 bn in a super grid infrastructure between 2009 and 2020 shows that this problem is being taken very seriously indeed.

By Angelika Pullen, Global Wind Energy Council,