Around 90% of China's existing wind farms are located under 1,000 metres altitude. Development at high altitude is expensive and it is difficult to make a profit, but this is not deterring Chinese businesses.
In November, Chinese manufacturer CSR Zhuzhou said it had connected high-altitude turbines to the grid at a wind farm in Yunnan province and said it had orders for 400 of these specially adapted turbines.
This followed an announcement by Goldwind in October that it had started mass production of high-altitude 1.5MW direct-drive wind turbines. XEMC has also begun to develop wind turbines for high-altitude areas. Prices for turbines tailor-made for high altitudes differ little from those of ordinary onshore turbines.
The most sought-after areas include Weining county, in the south-west province of Guizhou, where mountainous areas are estimated to have 1.5GW of wind resources. These are being targeted by Longyuan Power and Huaneng Renewables. Guizhou province is aiming for 9GW wind capacity by 2020.
These wind farms are all based on plateaus over 2,000 metres above sea level. Huanang Renewables and Longyuan Power have seized 41 of the 90 wind-power projects in Guizhou, while Datang Renewables has ten. Other Chinese companies working in the province include Huadian, Guodian Power and China Guangdong Nuclear Power.
Neighbouring county Hezhang has 1GW wind farms planned or under construction.
In order to get ahead in the race for high-altitude wind, manufacturers and local authorities have been operating a practice officially banned by the Chinese government in 2009. This involves the local authority allocating areas of wind-power resources to the turbine makers. In return, the companies invest in manufacturing plants in the area to create jobs and taxes.
"We bought high-precision wind-power resource maps of Guizhou province and found some buried treasures," said Su Li, deputy general manager of the wind-power division of Guizhou Changzhen Electric. "We have applied to the provincial government for projects in Zunyi and Liupanshui areas, with 300MW capacity." Local governments have agreed to allocate wind resources to the company, he added.
The company has invested CNY 2.1 billion ($330 million) in wind-turbine plants in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi and Shandong provinces. Last June, the company began manufacturing at a plant at Zunyi Heping industrial park in Guizhou, which has an annual capacity of 200 2MW turbines.
Seizing wind resources is the only way to survive the tough times in the Chinese wind-turbine manufacturing sector, where prices have plunged from CNY 6,500 in 2008 to a little over CNY 3,000 now. "We may make money by selling wind farms to state-owned power companies later," he added.
CSR Zhuzhou and Mingyang have also contacted the Weining government to get a share of the county's wind-power resources.
But doubts have been raised over whether high-altitude projects can make profits due to high construction costs due to logistical problems such as rough mountain roads.