Wind farm in Xinjiang viewed from the Lanxin railway. | Image by “Train to Xinjiang Provnice” (sic)
The command economy strikes again. China is touted as the renewables leader, installing a gobsmacking one third of all the worlds wind towers. But with a recent economic slowdown, when push comes to shove, coal power is used and wind farms are not.
It Can Power a Small Nation. But This Wind Farm in China Is Mostly Idle.
[NY Times] — More than 92,000 wind turbines have been built across the country, capable of generating 145 gigawatts of electricity, nearly double the capacity of wind farms in the United States. One out of every three turbines in the world is now in China, and the government is adding them at a rate of more than one per hour.
But some of its most ambitious wind projects are underused. Many are grappling with a nationwide economic slowdown that has dampened demand for electricity. Others are stymied by persistent favoritism toward the coal industry by local officials and a dearth of transmission lines to carry electricity from rural areas in the north and west to China’s fastest-growing cities.
Apparently the wind farms are not well connected to the cities that need the power (not to mention that the wind probably doesn’t power them at peak times, always needs back up, is unreliable, and unpredictable.) The transmission lines are just not good enough. A friend from Switzerland writes: “When I studied Communist Economic planning 1978, we called these type of investments Economic Bermuda Triangles.”
As far as the death of the coal industry goes: China has been adding a new idle coal fired plant nearly every week. (It is building 368 coal fired plants and planning a further 803). India is doubling coal mining by 2020, and Indonesia has already doubled their coal consumption since 2010).
Meanwhile in the US, the Amazon wind farm, a 104 turbine plant costing $400m is being built so close to military radars that people are saying it should be shut down before it starts because it is within the exclusion zone and is a threat to national security.
Seven years later, nothing has changed. Back in 2009 Scientific American was saying the exact same thing about Wind in China:
After just four years of rapid development, China has the world’s fourth largest wind power capacity: more than 12 gigawatts. However, the power of the breeze has become available so fast that the nation is struggling to make use of it.
Chinese wind farms, however, “in general have difficulties in operation or even lose money,” according to a government State Electricity Regulatory Commission report, which came out in July. For starters, so far, there is less wind power actually being generated than previously estimated by CWEA. The report notes that China’s wind power generation capacity in 2008 should actually have been calculated as 8.94 instead of 12.15 gigawatts because some turbines were installed but not used, thanks to government mandates that set as a target the quantity of turbines rather than the amount of electricity they can generate.