High hopes for low wind

Faced with escalating grid-access problems, China is broadening its outlook and starting to develop wind farms in low wind-speed areas, while continuing to develop its eight large 10GW-level wind-power bases in the north and east.

90m blades...Longyuan's 198MW Lai'an project
90m blades...Longyuan's 198MW Lai'an project

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"It will give equal attention to developing distributed wind farms that are smaller and based in the vast low wind-speed areas close to electric power users," says He Dexin, president of the China Wind Energy Association.

Under the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan to 2015, 20GW of wind-power capacity will be built in low wind-speed areas — one fifth of the target installed capacity for 2015 — around half of which is due to be completed before the end of 2012.
Low wind-speed areas are identified as having average wind speeds of 6-8 metres per second (m/s) and wind availability below 2,000 hours annually. This applies to 68% of China’s land, in Anhui, Hunan and Hubei provinces in central China, Fujian province in the south-east and Yunnan in the south-west.

The regions of rich wind-energy resources have been carved up by state-owned power companies and mighty local power firms since China launched public requests for bids for onshore wind concession projects in 2003. Developers have little alternative but to look elsewhere.

Building wind farms in areas of low wind is economically feasible, says He. The sites largely host or sit near the economic powerhouses in the east and south, thus eliminating the need to build expensive ultra-high voltage long-distance transmission lines.

Also, there is little disparity in wind availability between high and low wind-speed sites. In windy Inner Mongolia, wind could be applied for 3,000 hours a year, but due to restrictions in local power consumption and transmission bottlenecks, turbines actually operate for fewer than 2,000 hours a year. In low wind-speed areas they could run for around 1,800 hours.

Economic benefits

In May, Longyuan Power, China’s largest wind developer, completed its 198MW project in Lai’an, Chuzhou city in Anhui province. This is the country’s first commercial low-wind project and operates with annual wind speeds averaging 5.8m/s. The plant has 132 turbines of 1.5MW with 90-metre blades from Envision Energy and Guodian United Power. In July, Longyuan signed an agreement with the Chuzhou municipal government to develop 600MW in four more wind farms.

Xie Changjun, general manager at Longyuan, says it costs only 5% more to construct wind farms in the bustling low wind-speed areas than in northern wind-rich areas. The company can offset the extra investment through internal control of the wind farm.
Developers can sell power from wind farms in low-speed areas at a higher price as it qualifies for a feed-in-tariff of CNY 0.61/kWh ($0.010/kWh) compared to CNY 0.51-0.58/kWh for higher wind-speed areas.

Longyuan plans to construct more wind farms in low wind-speed areas in Anhui, Liaoning and Shandong provinces in the next two to three years, says Xie.

Last year, Guodian United Power signed agreements to develop 150MW wind power in Tianchang city, and 150MW in Siyang county in Jiangsu, another low wind-speed area. Other leading Chinese state-owned power companies, including Datang, China Wind Power and Huadian, have started to scout for low-wind sites.

Manufacturers on board

Leading Chinese manufacturers are also looking at this new market, developing turbines with longer blades.

Sinovel, China’s largest wind-turbine maker, has signed up to build industrial parks and produce low wind-speed turbines. Goldwind has entered into mass production of 1.5MW turbines for low wind-speed areas with 87-metre blades. And Guodian United Power has rolled out a suitable 1.5MW turbine.

Wang Zhongjiong, marketing manager of Sany Electric, an emerging turbine maker, says: "This year, we have won nearly 200MW orders from projects in low wind-speed areas, mainly in Yunnan and Hunan provinces. They account for 20% of our total orders. I think the volume will expand next year."  

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