China Special - Infrastructure: Projects waiting as grid build lags behind

Wind farm development in China is proceeding at such a rampant pace that the country's grid planners are finding it difficult to keep up. So with plans for several 10 GW wind bases in the works, calls for a nationwide grid plan have intensified.

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Assuming the power development plans of local governments across the country are fulfilled, China will have a cumulative installed wind capacity of about 34 GW in 2010, says investment advisory firm United Securities. Around 10 GW of that will have been installed this year and 12 GW next year. But plans for new power grids in the country are severely lagging behind and are already failing to meet the demands of the industry, warns Zhou Yanchang, a wind power analyst with the firm. "State planning does not match up with actual development of the wind power industry," he says. Xie Changjun, general manager of one of the country's leading developers, China Longyuan Power Group, agrees: "We must intensify planning of power grids and construction of supporting power grids."

By end 2008, China's cumulative installed wind capacity reached 12.15 GW, but just 8.94 GW, or 73.6%, was connected to the grid. With the country's wind capacity continuing to ramp up since then, reaching 16.8 GW by end June this year (page 12-13), little has changed. "Power grids have become a bottleneck on the development of the wind power industry in the country. Nearly one-third of the installed capacities of wind farms is wasted because of restrictions to access power grids," says Wang Yan, an official with China Wind Energy Association (CWEA).

As well as new transmission build failing to keep pace, existing lines have limited capacity and cannot accommodate all power from wind farms. "Some wind farms cannot get access to power grids. Some other wind farms, having accessed power grids, cannot have all their generated power sold," says Wang Shuang, another United Securities analyst. Wind farm operators are also often asked to stand-down their generation.


In 2009, local wind farms connecting to the Jilin Power Grid in northeast China have had to be banned from going into full gear three times already, says Shu Yinbiao, deputy general manager of the State Grid. During the Spring Festival period in February, wind capacity connecting to the Jilin grid was capped at 450 MW, leaving just over 200 MW of the 763 MW total installed at end 2008 lying idle. With the province's wind total set to double, reaching 1.4 GW by the end of this year, and plans for 23.3 GW by 2020, Jilin's grid operator has a lot to do. "It will be a great challenge," says Zhang Xianchong, general manager of Jilin Power Grid.

Officials with the State Grid acknowledge the problem, but put the blame on over-eager local authorities. "Local governments, in the course of preparing development plans for large wind farms, largely refer to local wind power resources to decide wind power project scales and orders of construction. They do not study wind power consumption markets," says Shu. "In this way, wind farm planning is out of line with power grid planning." Plans for wind power are also considered independently from those for other sources. "This leads to inconsistency between wind power and power grids, and between wind power and other power sources development," says Shu.

Grid plan

Longyuan's Xie wants a nationwide power grid plan for accommodating large-scale wind development established soon. It should "give priority to the problem of how to send electricity from 10 million kilowatt-level wind farms to power grids and transmit them to end users," he says, referring to China's ambitious plans for the construction of 10 GW wind power bases in Gansu, Xinjiang, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jilin and Jiangsu (page 20-21). In fact, China's total installed capacity is likely to reach 150 GW by 2020, says Li Zhi, director of the energy conservation and scientific equipment department of the National Energy Bureau (NEB). So the need to enhance its grid build programme is pressing.

"We have completed plans on wind power construction. In the next step, we will exert greater efforts to harmonise plans among different electrical generating systems," promises Liang Zhipeng, director of the NEB's new energy division. "We will accelerate the pace of establishing a power grid programme accommodating the development of new energy sources." Liang adds: "We must study the acceptance and consumption capacity of power grids and rationally arrange the order of constructing new energy sources projects to generate power." State Grid's Shu agrees. "Establishing scientific and unified electric power plans will serve as a basis and guarantee for sustainable and healthy development of the power industry in the country."

Shu points out that China's existing technical norms on Wind Farms Accessing Power Grids is "simply a guidance, rather than compulsive requirement" and "fails to meet the demands to develop wind power on a large scale". To solve the problem, NEB, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission and the China Electricity Council have set up a research task force to investigate and find solutions. It will conduct a nationwide survey of the current situation and project plans in the pipeline before proposing programmes for future development and management of wind, as well as thermal power, hydropower, nuclear and solar, taking into account the distribution of energy sources, growth in the demand for electricity, network transmission conditions, environmental benefits and the need for coordinated development of regional economies. New technical norms governing wind power access to power grids will be included.

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