From wind chargers to wind farms

In wind-rich Inner Mongolia, steadily increasing numbers of nomadic herdsmen are harnessing wind to generate electricity.

A wind-power "exhibit station" plus maintenance services has been built in each of Inner Mongolia's 56 counties and herdsmen and farmers receive government subsidies for subscribing to wind energy. All the mini generators operating in Inner Mongolia were made locally. The success of the wind charger industry has created considerable interest in Inner Mongolia for larger scale wind energy development.

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In wind-rich areas of Inner Mongolia it is becoming increasingly common for a bride's dowry to include a brand new wind driven generator. In this vast land of hardships and rough existence, a more graphic illustration of the taming of a hostile element would be hard to find. For the nomadic herding families of Inner Mongolia's vast pasture lands, the modern wind charger has found a friend in a bitter enemy.

Located in an area of the world dominated by westerlies, Inner Mongolia is estimated as having total wind energy resources reaching 310,000 MW, 20% of the national total. About a quarter of Inner Mongolia, a land area the size of Italy, is regarded as rich or fairly rich in wind power resources. This wind swept quarter, lying in the mid-northern part of Inner Mongolia, comprises the three prefectures of Bayannur, Ulanqab and Xilin Gol. Winds are steady in Inner Mongolia and seldom blow more than 21 metres a second, making the resource safe for energy exploitation. Hailishu, a township in Bayannur, has the biggest annual number of accumulated hours of winds blowing at 3 m/s or more, some 7800 hours. Winds at Qandmani, another township in Bayannur, are stronger, with average annual speeds of 6 m/s or more for 4765 hours. For most parts of Inner Mongolia, winds only drop below exploitable levels for 40-70 hours a year.

At present 125,000 mini wind generators, 80% of the country's wind turbines, are used by 500,000 people in the outlying areas of Inner Mongolia, according to the regional New Energy Office. Together with the region's three completed wind farms, they generated 55 million kWh last year, 0.3% of the region's total electricity output.

The tapping of wind energy in Inner Mongolia can be traced back to the 1950s. But large-scale exploitation did not begin until the establishment of the Inner Mongolia New Energy Leading Group in the early 1980s. To publicise the use of wind energy, a wind-power "exhibit station" plus maintenance services has been built in each of Inner Mongolia's 56 counties. The increased use of wind chargers in recent times has much to do with government support to this energy sector. Herdsmen and farmers are subsidised for subscribing to wind energy. A 100 W generator, for example, sells for CNY 840 ($100), but can be bought for a cash outlay of CNY 700, with the balance made up by the regional government. So far the government has spent CNY 23.5 million on wind charger subsidies, averaging CNY 1.5 million a year. Experts say the capacity of a 100 W generator is sufficient for an average family. A modern unit can be used and maintained with a minimum of expertise and maintenance services are now available from stores as well as local wind power stations.

All the mini generators operating in Inner Mongolia were made locally by the dozen or so factories now turning out the machines. The Inner Mongolia Shangdu Herding Machine Plant, in Shangdu county to the northeast of Hohhot, the regional capital, is perhaps the biggest manufacturer of small wind generators in the world, with an annual production capacity of 20,000 units. Last year it turned out close to 10,000 units with capacities ranging from 100-300 W. It is claimed the factory supplies 80% of all mini generators in China.

Besides meeting domestic demand, mini wind generators made in Inner Mongolia are exported to a dozen countries, including Japan, Germany, the United States, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Chinese government has given Indonesia 500 mini generators as a gift this year. As required by the recipient, they were all manufactured by the Shangdu Herding Machine Plant.

Scaling up

The success of the wind charger industry has created considerable interest in Inner Mongolia for larger scale wind energy development. Only 0.02% of its wind potential has been utilised so far, says Rong Guanghou, a deputy-director of the Inner Mongolia New Energy Office. The region so far has four wind farms, three of them completed, the other still under construction. The combined installed capacity of the four is 14.5 MW. If Inner Mongolia's mini-generators are included, the total installed capacity of the region for wind driven power generation reaches 27.8 MW, second only to Xinjiang, north west China.

Chen Tongmuo, a senior engineer with the Inner Mongolia Wind Power Company, says the region plans to expand its installed wind power capacity to more than 200 MW by the year 2000, raising wind's contribution to 1.5%. Establishment of the Inner Mongolia Wind Power Company in February 1994 was intended to speed up and expand these plans. The company, under the direct jurisdiction of the Inner Mongolia Electric Power Management Bureau, is the result of a merger of the former Inner Mongolia Electric Power Management Bureau Wind Power Office and the Xilin Gol Wind Power Research Institute. At the very beginning, it was prescribed that the company's income would all go to a wind power development fund.

Inner Mongolia has received financial support from various domestic and overseas sources for its wind development plans. So far the regional power department has appropriated CNY 32 million and the Fuling Wind Power Development Company in Beijing has provided another CNY 32 million. From overseas, Inner Mongolia has also received DEM 2 million from Germany and a loan of DKK 27.85 million from the Danish government.

Furthermore, sources say two new government loans are expected for the near future: a $4.2 million loan from the US government and a $4.5 million loan from the Netherlands. A number of countries in the world have reportedly expressed interest in wind power undertakings in Inner Mongolia.

Relevant regional authorities now plan to seek more overseas government loans in addition to domestic financial support in the form of government low-interest loans. Sino-foreign wind power joint ventures are encouraged.

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