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Green energy in China

By Dave Elliott

China is pushing ahead with renewables on a very large scale, with renewables and other non-fossil fuel options expected to provide around 15 % of its total energy needs by 2020: the nuclear programme is a small part of that, aiming to get to 4% of electricity by 2020. Renewables already supply 17%.

Wind power is the big new thing. There is 62 GW of capacity installed so far- way ahead of every other country. And that’s just the start. The Chinese Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050 stipulates that China will have 200 GW installed wind capacity by 2020, 400 GW by 2030, and 1,000 GW by 2050.

However, it is trying to refocus what has so far been something of a uncontrolled boom, with, for example, insufficient attention having been paid to proving the necessary grid links. The result has been that, although China had over 42 GW of wind capacity installed by the start of 2011, only an estimated 31 GW was grid-linked. Many of these projects, most of which were in remote areas in the North West, poorly served by grid links, were often unable to dispatch their full potential output to users, most of whom are in the major urban areas on the coast. This issue is now being addressed- the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011 – 15), includes significant investment in grid infrastructure.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said China will restrain its ‘blind’ expansion of the wind power industry and improve planning procedures for projects. ‘China must establish a mechanism promoting the use of new energy. It must strengthen overall planning, furnish supporting facilities to projects, guide the projects with government policies, and expand domestic demands.’

It will give priority to develop onshore wind power before 2020, while experimenting with pilot offshore wind projects, near the coastline. From 2021 to 2030, it will give equal attention to develop onshore and offshore wind, and experiment with pilot wind projects far away offshore. From 2031 to 2050, it will support all-round development of onshore (in the eastern, central and western regions) and far and near offshore, and also push energy storage technology, smart grids, and other advanced electric power systems.

Hydro has of course been the big more conventional renewable option for China, and, given the remote location of giant projects like the giant 18.2 GW (soon to be 22.4 GW). Three Gorges damn, that too has grid implications, although more progress has been made there. A series of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) supergrid links have been built to East and South China, over distances of around 1,000 km, to transfer electricity from the Three Gorges hydro power plant. The total capacity of the HVDC links is 7,200 MW, with line losses put at about 3%.

On a very different technology scale , PV solar is the other big new renewable option. So far China has focused on exporting PV, it’s a world leader, but now it is looking to large scale deployment in China, with its earlier 10GW by 2020 target now replaced: the Chinese government recently increased its target for solar energy by 40%, pledging to deploy 21GW of capacity by 2015.

It certainly seems to be heading that way. According to a Modern Power Systems’ ‘Global Renewable Power Investment Outlook for 2012’, published by Global Data, China’s solar power domestic solar PV equipment demand was ‘expected to rise, with the increase of 65% in their solar power capacity additions in 2012.’ But it is still looking to exports. The report says that ‘Besides focusing on its domestic market, China also plans to invest around $100m for the development of solar power projects in 40 African nations. Africa could be seen as a prospective demand market for China’s solar manufacturers, thereby enabling them to expand their production targets’

In addition, China is looking to marine renewables. China’s tidal resource has been put at 190 GW, 38.5 GW of which is available for development, giving an annual output of 87 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. The China Ocean Energy Resources Division says 424 tidal power stations could be built along the coastline, mainly in maritime provinces like Zhejiang and Fujian. See .

All the above are focused on electricity, but China also has huge solar thermal and biomass potentials, some of which can be, and already is, harnessed at the local level meeting heat needs direct. Solar heating is quite widespread, as is biogas production from agrictulutral wastes and large pig farms. The big advantage of biogas is that it can be stored, so it is not a weather dependent resource.

By contrast, as noted above, most of its large green electricity assets are weather dependent and are also in remote locations. However, the newly emerging supergrid network can not only bring power to demand centres, it can.also help with balancing the variable renewable inputs and variable demand making use of the sheer size of the country-if it’s not windy in one area it may well be in another.

The supergrid network may also be extended to provide links with other countries for exports and balancing imports when needed. Liu Zhenya, General Manager of State Grid Corporation of China, has indicated that China plans to enhance transnational grid connection projects during the period of 2011-2015, and one of the key projects is a China-Russia direct-current scheme. China will, he says, accelerate construction of direct-current power transmission from Russia and Mongolia to Liaoning,Tianjin and Shandong during the period of 2016-2020 and 2020-2030, based upon power transmission from surrounding countries to China and in accordance with development needs of Northeast China and North China. (Source: SinoCast Daily Business Beat, 10/5/12)

With up to 140 GW of hydropower and maybe even more wind-power installed capacity likely to be in place within the next 10 years, they may at times have some power to spare, but also at times may need some balancing inputs. For that, there is certainly abundant wind power available in Inner Mongolia, and Mongolia has plans for developing large scale Concentrating Solar power (CSP) projects in the Gobi Desert. Excess electricity (around 1GW) from its proposed Gobitec CSP project would be exported to urban centers in China, Japan, and South Korea via a new network of nearly 4,000 km of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. See .

We could thus see the creation of a East Asian supergrid network- something that Japan in particular, being a series of islands with limited land area for renewable energy projects, may find very helpful. As I noted in an earlier Blog, the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation and the German-led Desertec Foundation have already teamed up to promote an Asian Supergrid that would connect the national grids of Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia. Desertec has of course proposed something similar for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It will be interesting to see which happens first. See 24-01-wind-power-from-the-gobi-desert/.

See also my supergrid paper:

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