China heads for first place ranking

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On track to meet its 2020 goal for installed wind power capacity of 30 GW already in 2011, China appears ready to more than triple the official 2020 target to 100 GW. Fang Junshi of the National Energy Administration (NEA) says that with China expected to consume about 21% more coal in 2020 than today, the country will need to have installed 100 GW of wind power, as well as 300 GW of hydro, 30 GW of biomass generation and 40 GW of nuclear power, by that year to keep carbon emissions in check.

A 100 GW wind target for 2020 has yet to be published in any government policy statement, but Shi Pengfei of the China Wind Energy Association believes the NEA's mandate last year to construct six 10 GW wind farms across the north and east puts the higher target -- and even a 150 GW benchmark -- within reach.

Shi also foresees a chain of events triggered by the global financial crisis ironically contributing to robust development of the Chinese wind power sector, as a decline in raw material prices lowers wind turbine costs. Meantime, he expects foreign turbine manufacturers to ramp up supply, easing turbine shortages and shortening wind farm construction cycles. The sector is today plagued by bottlenecks in electronic control systems, bearings and other parts, as well as a shortfall in technology expertise and research and development capacity.

"The financial crisis will not affect the rapidly developing wind power sector in China," says Shi. Officials project that given the Chinese sector's already breakneck speed of growth, within three to five years the country is likely to install enough wind power for it to climb to first place in the global capacity rankings, from fourth place today behind the US, Germany and Spain.

Meantime, the National Development and Reform Commission plans renewed support for clean energy industry, building upon development programs in 2007 and 2008, says Wang Mengjie of the Chinese Renewable Energy Society. "The biggest difference lies in quotas. The quotas for new energy will be elevated markedly." Among all sub-sectors of renewable energy wind will take the biggest priority, he says.

Growth will not come without pain. Leading state-owned developers such as Huaneng, Datang, Huadian and Guodian will be first in line for low-interest bank loans, helping them maintain high rates of wind installation, says Shi. But the economic downturn will accelerate restructuring among domestic wind turbine manufacturers, eliminating the weakest players, he says. Above all, he says, "The biggest obstacle to the expansion of the Chinese wind power industry is how to link wind farms to power grids."

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