China’s offshore wind energy boom

Longyuan Power, China’ s largest wind power developer, connected 99.3 megawatts (MW) of wind turbines to the grid in a pilot intertidal wind farm in Rudong county in eastern province of Jiangsu.

Taking into account the existing 32 MW wind turbines, which went into operation in September 2010, Longyuan has 131.3MW turbines integrated to the grid in the pilot wind farm in Rudong. This has made the Rudong intertidal project China’s largest offshore wind farm.

Intertidal wind farms are a unique form to tap offshore wind power. Intertidal areas cover vast sea regions that are submerged in rising tide and heaved out in ebb tide.

According to China’ s Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050, recently issued by the energy research institute of National Development and Reform Commission, until 2021, China will focus on onshore wind development.

Overall, China plans to have 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity by 2050, making up 17 percent of the country’s electricity consumption. So far, wind power generation accounts for 1.5 percent of national power generation.

China’ s only offshore wind farm in commercial operation is the Shanghai East Sea Bridge Offshore Wind Farm, totaling 102 MW. It went into operation in June 2010, using 34 Sinovel 3MW turbines.

Longyuan started to construct the Rudong intertidal wind farm in June 2009. The first stage of the pilot project, set to be 150 MW in installation, involves an investment of 2.5 billion yuan (397 million U.S. dollars). It will be fully completed in March 2012, said Zhang Gang, general manager of Longyuan Jiangsu Offshore Wind Power.

Zhang said the wind farm will annually generate 330 million kWh of electric power for the grid, saving 97,000 tonnes of standard coal. It can reduce emissions of 267,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 1,940 tonnes of sulfur dioxide.

Xie Changjun, general manager of Longyuan, said "Our construction of the Rudong pilot intertidal wind farm will lead the way for China to develop offshore wind power, particularly in site selection, planning and design, installation and maintenance."

"We will supply a test platform for Chinese offshore wind turbines to go mature. In brief, we will accumulate valuable experiences for China to develop offshore wind power on a large scale," Xie said.

High installation cost is a major factor restricting the boom of China’ s offshore wind power. Industry officials say that offshore wind farm construction costs are mainly wind farm facilities and installations. Wind farm facilities, such as wind turbines, foundations and electric cables, make up 79 percent of the total wind farm construction costs. Installation constitutes 15 percent of total costs. Among the installation costs, installation of turbines and foundations makes up 9 percent and submarine cable pavement 6 percent.

Zhang said Longyuan has overcome problems in offshore wind farm construction. It has reached the European advanced level in technology for offshore wind farm construction, while also lowering offshore wind installation costs to 16,000 yuan/kw, about 60 percent of the European level.

Zhang said the secret for lower installation costs include improved technology for single pile foundation forms, which Longyuan applied to install 17 turbines, and multi-pile jacket foundation forms, applied to install 21 turbines.

"According to the current installation costs and interest rates on loans, we may keep the production costs of offshore wind power to about 0.8 yuan/kwh. We may profit this way," Zhang said.

However, he pointed out that with such construction costs, offshore wind power remains weak in competitiveness when connected to the grid. The benchmark feed-in tariffs for onshore wind farms are 0.51-0.61 yuan/kwh.

"We need to make greater breakthroughs in cost control and turbine quality, if we are to develop offshore wind power at a large scale," Zhang said.

China is determined to build up its offshore sector, as the best onshore wind farm sites have already been taken. Compared with Europe, China has just broken the ice for offshore wind power. China’ s offshore capacity remains a tiny proportion of its total installed wind-power capacity. And yet China has rich offshore wind power resources.

According to the China Meteorological Administration, China has up to 750 GW exploitable wind resources in the sea, three times that of onshore wind resources.

These offshore wind resources are based at the eastern and southern coasts, large economic centers with growing demands for power and a diminishing supply of fossil-energy resources.

In 2010, China awarded four contracts, through a bidding process, to power companies to construct 1 GW offshore and inter-tidal concession projects. They are scheduled to be completed in four years.

Eligible companies were restricted to domestic wind-farm developers or joint ventures that are more than 50 percent Chinese-owned. Sinovel, Goldwind and Shanghai Electric, leading Chinese turbine makers, supply the turbines.

Industry officials say China might issue a second request for tenders for offshore concession projects in the first half of 2012. The projects, totaling up to 2GW, will be located across the provinces of Jiangsu, Hebei, Shandong, Zhejiang and Guangdong.

China is planning a major offshore development push. According to the National Energy Bureau (NEB), China will construct 5GW of offshore wind projects by 2015, five percent of its total wind installed capacity, while developing full technology and setting up a complete industrial supply chain.

By 2015, China will enter into scaled development of offshore wind power and its technology, and by 2020, China will construct 30 GW offshore projects, becoming the largest country for offshore-wind power development.

Industry officials believe the 5GW installation capacity in the next five years will create 80 billion yuan in market opportunities.

Tao Gang, senior vice-president of Sinovel, said China needs around 6,000 offshore turbines with a 5MW capacity to meet the 30GW target for 2020.

China’ s leading wind turbine makers are vying for a slice of that market. In May 2011, Sinovel rolled out a 6MW prototype, and in October installed the 6MW offshore turbine in Sheyang county, Jiangsu Province.

Other leading Chinese wind turbine makers, including Guodian United Power, Shanghai Electric, Goldwind, and Chongqing Haizhuang, are also developing 5MW or 6MW wind turbines.

Last September, Shanghai Electric won a 100MW deal to supply 3.6MW offshore turbines for the second stage of China’s Shanghai East Sea Bridge project.

Zheng Fangneng, energy section chief under the Ministry of Science and Technology, said that over the next five years, China will support development of big-capacity wind turbines, key components, and industrialization technology. Priority will be given to 3MW to 5MW turbines and 6MW to 10MW experimental offshore turbines.

Foreign turbine makers are also eyeing this lucrative market. In 2010, GE set up a joint venture with Harbin Electric Machinery Company to develop wind turbines for the Chinese market.

In February 2011, Shanghai Electric and Siemens signed a joint venture to supply Siemens blades to the Chinese market. In June, Longyuan handed Siemens its first ever offshore turbine order in China, 21 units of SWT-2.3MW wind turbines, for the Rudong inter-tidal project.

Siemens Wind Power CEO Jens-Peter Saul said: "We see good opportunities for offshore wind power in China with its shallow water near the consumption centers on the coast. This order is an important step in entering the rapidly growing Chinese wind power market."

In December, Shanghai Electric and Siemens announced plans to expand their existing collaboration and set up two new joint ventures.

In September, Gamesa’ s new chief executive for China Jose Antonio Miranda said he hoped to introduce the company’ s upcoming offshore wind turbine, G11X 5MW, to China within the next two years.

Gamesa opened its sixth manufacturing plant in Tianjin city in November as part of its aim to expand market share in the country. The assembly plant takes Gamesa’s capacity in China to 1GW.

In the same month, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said he was looking to increase the level of cooperation between Scotland and China on the development of offshore wind energy.

Hyundai Heavy Industries, the global shipbuilding giant, said in September it expected to generate sales of 300 million U.S. dollars a year by 2015 from a new wind turbine factory in China.

"China is a market you can’t ignore," said Kim Kwean Tae, head of low-carbon business at Hyundai.