China's focus turns to use of lower wind speeds

CHINA: China is switching its attention to the development of wind projects in low-wind-speed areas, as it seeks to bring wind energy to its population centres.

The aim is listed in the country's 12th Five-Year Development Plan (2011-15) according to Shi Lishan, deputy director of the new energy and renewable energy department of the National Energy Bureau (NEB).

This marks a significant change in China's existing wind power development scenario, which advocated developing eight 10GW wind farms in the wind-rich northern and eastern coastal areas. The drawback in this strategy is that these regions have fewer power users and the wind farms have to transmit wind power over thousands of kilometres to users in China's populous central and eastern areas.

Developers have almost a blank page to develop wind power in low-wind-speed areas in the country, since wind farms in the northern areas are suffering from the bottleneck of grid access, with nearly a third of installed turbines idle.

Since the wind power resources in wind-rich areas have almost all been developed or seized by major power companies, there is great potential in the vast areas of China's weaker wind power resource, according to industry officials.

Low-wind-speed areas, where wind speed averages 6-8 metres per second and a turbine is expected to generate power for up to 2,000 hours in a year, amount to about 68% of China's wind energy resources areas, the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA) estimates.

Bai Jianhua, director of the State Grid energy strategy and planning research institute, says the NEB is planning to ask State Grid to accept wind power from wind farms in low-wind-speed areas. Bai says China will expand the installed capacity of wind power in these locations to about 20% of the country's total wind installed capacity, or 20GW by the end of 2015.

Leading Chinese wind farm operators have already been developing low-wind-speed projects. Longyuan, China's largest wind farm operator, recently completed the construction of a 200MW low-speed wind farm in Lai'an, central China's Chuzhou city, Anhui province.

Longyuan says the wind farm may generate power from the wind for nearly 2,000 hours a year, compared with 2,600-2,800 hours in the northern areas. Lai'an sits near the terminal users of the East China Grid, which will ensure the turbines are quickly connected. The company says it will construct more low-speed projects in Anhui and neighboring Shandong province. In Chuzhou city alone, Longyuan plans to construct 1GW of wind farms in three years.

Longyuan officials say constructing wind farms in these low-wind-speed areas costs about 5% more than those in northern areas. But since these low-wind-speed areas boast better transportation and construction conditions, wind farm operators may offset the increased costs through controlling other types of expenditure.

Overall, the benefits of these wind farms should be higher than those in the high-wind-speed areas in the north.

Having observed the business opportunity, many wind turbine producers have adjusted their product mix to develop wind turbines for low-speed areas. Leading Chinese wind turbine makers Goldwind and Guodian United Power have put into operation megawatt-level low-wind-speed wind turbines.

Bai says companies need to take advantage of this shift in strategy. He adds: "China is extending clearer support to develop wind power in low-wind-speed areas. Thus, low-wind-speed power development will meet its peak time over the next five years."

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