Analysis: China to reevaluate offshore in new five-year plan

CHINA: The Chinese government is expected to lower the 30GW target for offshore wind development in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) to 12GW, according to sources.

China's Shanghai East Sea Bridge inter-tidal project
China's Shanghai East Sea Bridge inter-tidal project

China is one of the few countries outside northern Europe to develop offshore wind. Currently its offshore total is 0.66GW, accounting for 0.57% of the country's total wind capacity.

The 2014 offshore growth, up 487.9% on that of 2013, appears impressive. Yet the country will fall far short of the 5GW target for end-2015.

Two important measures were announced last year. In June 2014, the National Energy Administration (NEA) released the first offshore FIT scheme. Half a year later NEA announced a national offshore wind development plan for 2014-2016, which rounded up for its approval 44 projects totalling 10.53GW in capacity.

Some said the year ushered in a new era of offshore wind. Not everybody agreed.

The overall cost of an offshore wind project is generally considered to be twice that of an onshore one. But the new FiT scheme does not reflect it, and investors in offshore wind will have little chance of making a profit.

While the capacity of projects on the state plan was big, dates of completion for many of them are in doubt. Developers seize offshore projects with good wind resources. When it comes to actual investment there interest cools. Profit-making is pivotal to a commercial company and state-owned enterprises are no exception.

There is impatience in some quarters. Speaking publicly earlier this year, NEA New & Renewable Energy Division deputy director Shi Lishan expressed the wish that government-approved projects would be launched soon.

But compared with onshore wind, the offshore sector is confronted with many more problems. Inadequate technical standards hamper efforts in project planning, design and execution. An offshore project must be approved by a string of regulatory bodies, including maritime, transportation, fishery, military and environmental protection.

The tedious, strenuous tasks of application are frustrating. Imports of offshore equipment are expensive and domestic products are few and lacking proven records. Installation and maintenance of offshore facilities are often a question, too. These problems must be sorted out and solved first.

In the upcoming 13th Five-Year Plan, the wording has been changed when it comes to offshore. It is believed it will be changed from "actively push forward" to "steadily develop".

Drawing lessons from its onshore experience in the past, NEA seems determined that the country's offshore wind should progress slowly but surely. A practical route of the country's wind development will be from onshore to intertidal, offshore and then further offshore.

CWEA statistics show in China's total existing offshore wind capacity, only 34.4% are really offshore. The rest is intertidal. This will continue to be the case in the following few years.

More offshore wind farms will be built in the following decades and projects will be sited further away from the coastline, to offshore areas with deeper water depth and with turbine hubs higher above the sea.

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