The move comes amid serious concerns in China that a lack of access to the grid is preventing wind from reaching its potential. Much of the grid capacity is occupied by other energy types, which has led to wind farms being built but then marooned, unconnected and starved of space on the network. The new quotas are seen as a way of guaranteeing wind capacity on the network by tying regional grids into accommodating renewables.
So severe is the bottlenecking problem that some analysts have cast doubt on whether China can reach its targets of 90GW of connected wind power by 2015 and 150GW by 2020. It has emerged that one third of China's installed wind capacity - about 9GW - is not connected to power grids, while wind power connected to power grids accounts for only 0.7% of the country's total power generation.
Liu Qi, deputy director of the National Energy Bureau (NEB), says: "The access of wind power to power grids has become the largest bottleneck for scaled expansion of wind power in the country, as a result of booming wind power development in Inner Mongolia, the northeastern provinces and Gansu and Hebei."
The NEB is to spend the next six months planning for grid targets in the 11 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities that boast rich wind power resources. Under the programme, the exact proportions of electric power from renewable energy sources that are to be assigned to each power grid will be derived from the quota of renewable energy power stated in the country's renewable energy development program, along with the potential capacity of respective regions to accommodate renewables.
Industry analysts believe that once policymakers impose rigid targets on regional power grids, forcing them to admit healthy quotas of wind power, China's wind power industry will blossom.
The new connection rules are designed to force grid operators to create a network that is wind friendly. Under the existing framework, the incentives to develop the grid in favour of renewables are meek. "On the surface, sending wind power to power grids is restricted by technological problems, such as the intermittent nature of wind power," says Chen Danghui, chief technology officer of Sinovel. "But at a deeper layer, economic factors play a bigger role. Power grid runners need to invest heavily to build grids and long-distance transmission lines to achieve only minor benefits. They are not motivated very much."
Local power consumption
Meanwhile, in a bid to minimise the marathon transmission of renewables power from remote outposts to centres of population that has affected some projects, such as the Three Gorges hydro scheme (see page 84), Liu says that most wind farms approved by provincial governments would see their power consumed in their own provinces. In addition, local areas would have priority access for power generated by wind farms larger than 50MW, with the excess wind power transmitted to the regional power grid under an overall plan.
Starting this year, all the regions need to scrutinise early-stage preparations for wind farms in their areas and create programmes for wind power development in 2010. The regions, with NEB approval, will construct wind farms according to the approved programs. Wind power projects omitted from the NEB programme will fail to win state subsidies.