Windicator: Counting Chinese megawatts the methodology explained

Counting operating wind megawatts in China is not an exact science.

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The breakneck pace of wind development and the slower pace of grid development make it a difficult exercise. The task for 2010 is further complicated by past errors that may have inflated reported operating wind capacity in 2009 by several gigawatt.

What is certain is that operating wind capacity at the end of 2010 is a lot less than installed capacity. The capacity of wind farms built but not connected to the grid ranges from at least 6.45GW and potentially up to 13.66GW.

An analysis of three information streams (see table) for Chinese wind power has prompted a downward revision for China's total gigawatt compared with numbers from other English-language publications. Our source, selected using experience from counting global wind megawatts since 1996, reports 15.6GW added to operating wind capacity in China last year to bring the cumulative end-year total to 38.28GW.

Because of inflated reporting in 2009, the Windicator's global operating capacity table (see page 108) shows fewer gigawatt added to the grid in 2010 than the reported 15.6GW.

In most countries the difference between installed and operating wind megawatts is small, even though grid delays happen. But in China, wind farms can materialise solely to comply with a mandate for installed capacity, rather than wind energy output. Without commercial market pressures, the incentive to speed through grid connection and sell power to customers is often weak. On the other hand, wind farms can be connected to the grid well ahead of publication of information on electricity flowing to the network.

Installed capacity figures issued by the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA) use information from a mixture of wind turbine producers, operators and local governments. According to CWEA, 18.9GW was newly installed in 2010, compared with 13.8GW in 2009, bringing China's cumulative total of installed - but not necessarily operating - wind capacity at the end of 2010 to 44.73GW.

Very different numbers are reported by the Chinese Electricity Council, the Chinese power industry's regulatory body with overall responsibility for power generation. It reports the addition of 13.47GW in 2010, compared with 9.73GW in 2009, to bring total online capacity at the start of the year to 31.07GW. That is fully 13.66GW less than installed capacity reported by CWEA. Indeed, according to the council, operating wind capacity at the end of 2009 was 8.2 GW less than reported by CWEA.

A third set of figures from HydroChina Corporation, which is backed by the National Energy Bureau, falls between the two extremes reported by CWEA and the electricity council. HydroChina reports 15.6GW added in 2010, up from 10.58GW in 2009, to bring China's cumulative wind generating capacity to 38.2GW.

HydroChina differentiates between wind farms with a grid connection available, but not all turbines connected, and wind farms where the grid is totally absent, which are not included in its capacity count. It is a method that resembles the Windicator's approach to all countries and it seems fair to presume that numbers backed by a government agency are close to being official and destined for the history books.

Three information sources
New Total New Total
2009 2009 2010 2010
CWEA 13.8 25.8 18.9 44.7
HydroChina 10.6 22.7 15.6 38.3
CEC 9.7 17.1 14.0 31.1

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