Offshore: China to re-evaluate offshore in new five-year plan

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.

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China is one of the few countries outside northern Europe to develop offshore wind. Its current offshore total is 770MW, accounting for 0.57% of the country's total wind capacity.

The 2014 offshore growth, up 488% on that of 2013, appears impressive. Yet the country will still 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 feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme. Six months later the 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 for offshore wind, but opinions were divided. The overall cost of an offshore wind project is considered to be twice that of an onshore one, but the new FIT does not reflect this, and investors in offshore wind will have little chance of making a profit.

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

Arduous process

There is impatience in some quarters. Speaking publicly earlier this year, Shi Lishan, deputy director of the NEA's new and renewable energy division, expressed the wish that government-approved projects would be launched soon.

But the offshore sector faces many more problems than its onshore equivalent. 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 application procedures can be frustrating. Imports of offshore equipment are expensive and domestic products are few and lack proven records. Installation and maintenance of offshore facilities are another challenge. These problems must be sorted out first.

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

Drawing lessons from its onshore experience, the 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, to offshore and then further offshore.

Chinese Wind Energy Association statistics show that of China's total existing offshore wind capacity, only 34.4% is really offshore, with the rest of the capacity intertidal. This will continue to be the case in the next few years.

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

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