With the second round of China's public tenders for offshore wind-power concessions now due, Longyuan Power, the Chinese wind-power operator, has voiced frustration at wasted preparatory work for a first-round concession and questioned the reliability of Chinese-manufactured offshore turbines.
Last month, the National Energy Bureau announced the second tender, with the aim of doubling the size of last year's first tender with another 1.5-2GW of wind-generated electricity.
However, Xie Changjun, general manager of Longyuan Power, complained about losing out to competing maritime users despite winning a first-round concession when he spoke at the Shanghai Offshore Wind Power conference on 15 June, a few days before the second tender was announced. Eight months after winning one of the four first-round concessions, Xie said his company had hit a problem at the site of its 200MW inter-tidal project in Dafeng, Jiangsu province.
According to Xie, Longyuan had lost CNY10 million ($1.55 million) in wasted early-stage preparations for Dafeng. "When I finished evaluating wind resources under the Jiangsu provincial offshore wind-power development plan and submitted the development application, I was then told the area we won for the project was reserved for other uses - for constructing ports, for nature reserves and for fisheries," he said.
"This is a complete waste of money and the government will not compensate us. Why can government departments not communicate among themselves before the tender?" asked Xie.
Despite Longyuan being held up by competing interests at Dafeng, all the bid winners of the first phase of concessions have now finished hydrological survey work and are working on air control, navigation and radar issues.
As well as competition for access to offshore wind sites, Xie, along with other wind-project developers, is also worried about the performance of wind turbines. While China overtook the US at the end of 2010 as the world's number one in terms of installed capacity - with more than 44GW - such rapid advances have exposed problems with three large-scale breakdowns that disconnected hundreds of wind turbines from the grid in Hebei and Gansu provinces this year.
Not up to scratch
Asking whether Chinese manufacturers would be able to supply offshore turbines of the required quality, Xie said: "So far, I have not found any offshore turbines in the country which fully satisfy me."
To address the problem, Xie said Longyuan had invested CNY550 million last month to set up a 30MW pilot inter-tidal wind farm in Rudong, Jiangsu province, to test 16 turbines from eight manufacturers.
"So far, the best-performing turbine comes from Envision Energy, with a 98% availability ratio. Turbines from many leading makers are less satisfactory," he said. Xie has challenged Chinese turbine manufacturers, saying: "Solve the problems for us with onshore turbines first, before you develop offshore models."
Addressing the rapid growth of China's offshore wind sector at the Shanghai event - it will hit 5GW by 2015 and could reach 30GW by 2020 - Ole Hermansen, director of the offshore wind-power division at Siemens China, said: "In Europe, an offshore wind farm is developed in five to six years, but it's a totally different story in China. As I see it, Europe develops too slowly and China advances too fast. I prefer a middle course."
As Xie put it: "The 'blow-out-style' development of China's onshore wind power is unfit for offshore wind exploration. I must remind businesses in the wind sector that China shouldn't develop offshore wind power by leaps and bounds.
"I think China's objective of developing 5GW of offshore wind power by 2015 is correct," he said, adding that "Longyuan will advance in small steps in offshore wind. Large-scale offshore wind development might start after 2015".
Chinese officials said the locations for the second batch of projects would not be confined to Jiangsu province as happened with the first one. Shangdon province, to the north, will be a priority area. The thresholds for the second batch of projects will also be higher. Offshore wind turbines should be bigger than 5MW in future - from the present 3MW - and the minimum size for offshore wind farms should be 500MW. In the first phase it was 200-300MW.