And it is just the start of a far more ambitious plan across China.
"China has entered a new stage of scaled development of wind power," said Zhang Guobao, director of the National Energy Bureau, as he celebrated the official start of construction of the country's first 10 GW-plus wind power base in Jiuquan, in the north-west province of Gansu, in August. By the end of 2008, China already had 12.17 GW of installed wind capacity, with more than 11,000 turbines generating almost 15 billion kWh of electricity. But the projects that make up that capacity are small fry compared to China's new vision - in all, the country wants to construct seven 10 GW wind farm power bases in the coming years, taking in Inner Mongolia, Hebei, north-east China, north-west China and eastern coastal areas.
The Jiuquan Wind Farm Base in the Hexi Corridor of Gansu marks the start of that vision, with work to get the first 3.8 GW firmly under way. The bulk of this initial capacity is coming from China's three leading domestic turbine suppliers: Goldwind, Sinovel and Dongfang Steam Turbine Works, all of which were awarded the contracts under a government concession last year, and all of which are supplying 1.5 MW turbines.
This stage, involving some 20 individual projects, will be complete in 2011. The developers, which include State Grid Xin Yuan Company and China Huadian New Energy Development, have a 25-year franchise to build, own and operate the wind farms.
Rival to hydro
By the time the full 10 GW is complete, the CNY 120 billion ($17.6 billion) development will have created around 30 wind farms, and will have the same capacity as the Three Gorges Hydropower Station in central China, the country's largest hydropower plant. The 30 or so projects making up the Jiuquan base will all be in Gobi deserts, occupying no farmlands.
With wind speeds averaging 5.7 m/s, Jiuquan is an ideal location to exploit wind power resources by establishing large-scale grid-connected wind farms, says Wang Yan, an official with the China Wind Energy Association. The local meteorological department claims that Jiuquan has the theoretical potential for 150 GW of wind power. More than 40 GW is deemed fully exploitable, spanning nearly 10,000 square kilometres, which accounts for just 5.15% of the Jiuquan City area. The annual full-load power generation periods in the area can reach 2300 hours.
Rail and road links
In addition, the planned Jiuquan wind farms will be sited along the Lanzhou-Xinjiang and Dunhuang railways as well as National Highway 312, which will make transportation of wind farm equipment relatively easy.
Jiuquan already has six wind farms totalling around 660 MW in operation and a further 650 MW under construction. On the basis of the plans for the 10 GW base, approved by the National Development and Reform Commission, over 5 GW more of wind capacity will be installed by the end of 2011, with over 7 GW more expected to be added before 2015, bringing Jiuquan's total installed capacity to 12.71 GW. But that's not where development in the area is expected to stop. Its total wind capacity is likely to reach 20 GW by 2020, says the Hexi New Energy Sources Plan of Gansu Province.
According to Zhang, the thinking behind creating the 10 GW bases is to balance the relationship between wind power resources, turbine manufacturers, and electric power consumption markets. China hopes to concentrate transmission of electric power, elevate the scaled efficiency of wind farms and promote faster and healthier development of the wind power industry, says Zhang. The ambitious project will create enormous economic and social benefits to Jiuquan, adds Guo Yishou, vice mayor of Jiuquan. Around CNY 17 billion ($2.5 billion) a year will be invested for the next seven years to complete the project, it will create 5000 jobs and help to speed up local economic development in the financial, insurance, catering and entertainment sectors, he says.
A report by Norwest China Reconnaissance & Design Institute, part of HydroChina Corporation, says that with 5.16 GW installed by end 2010, the Jiuquan base could generate 11.87 billion kWh of electricity a year if it operates at 2300 full load hours annually. Sales from the electricity will generate CNY 6.3 billion ($922 million), on the basis of the CNY 0.53/kWh ($0.077/kWh) tariff set. By 2015, with 12.71 GW installed, wind in Jiuquan will supply 29.23 billion kWh of electricity annually, and its wind plants will generate CNY 15.5 billion ($2.3 billion) in sales revenues.
The environmental benefits are huge. When completed, the wind power base will replace the use of 9.72 million tonnes of standard coal, reduce the discharge of 131,815 tonnes of smoke, 109,115 tonnes sulphur dioxide, 112,623 tonnes nitrous oxide and 2930 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, China's authorities say.
With Jiuquan becoming a focus for wind power, there has, unsurprisingly, been an influx of Chinese and foreign investors to the area. Leading Chinese power project developers, such as Longyuan Group, Datang Group, China Power Investment Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd are all there, says Yang Kezhong, a Suzhou District senior official, as are more than 20 new energy specialists, including Huaneng International, SNOOC, Goldwind and Guodian.
Meanwhile, large-scale industrial equipment manufacturing parks are being built. Over the next two to three years a number of industrial parks for the manufacture of wind turbines, turbine blades, wheel hubs, flanges and towers are being completed in the Suzhou District, Yumen City and Guazhou County, all of which are regions under the jurisdiction of Jiuquan. By 2010, Jiuquan will have the capacity to produce 1.5 GW of wind turbines annually, 1000 sets of turbine blades and 1000 sets of towers. Contracts have been signed with a large number of wind turbine equipment manufacturers, including Goldwind, Sinovel, Dongfang and XEMC, for a total investment of CNY 5.8 billion ($849 million).
Progress is most marked in the Suzhou District industrial park. Here, Goldwind has invested CNY 130 million ($19 million) in manufacturing facilities and production has begun. Zhonghang Huiteng Wind Power Equipment Co Ltd, investing CNY 180 million ($26.3 million), will soon be producing turbine blades and Sinovel, spending CNY 500 million ($73.2 million), has completed civil engineering preparation and started constructing its factory. The Zhongfu Lianzhong Composites wind turbine blade facility, costing CNY 400 million ($58.6 million), will go into operation in November.
The Sinoma Science & Technology Co Ltd is also investing in a wind turbine blade facility to the tune of CNY 500 million ($73.2 million). This is expected to come into production shortly. The Jiuquan Steel & Iron Group's flange and wheel hub factory, costing CNY 200 million ($29.3 million), will begin operation in 2010. Meanwhile, in Guazhou and Yumen, around 10 wind power tower factories, with a total capacity for 2500 sets annually, are planned.
Like other areas across China, the main potential bottleneck facing the Jiuquan plans is connecting the wind farms to the power grid. Jiuquan links to the terminal of the Northwest China Power Grid, which can accommodate 30 GW of power capacity. But most of that is already taken up. The existing 110-kilovolt and 330-kilovolt power lines alone cannot meet the demands to transmit electricity from 10 GW of wind capacity, and already some wind farms in Jiuquan that have begun operation are not connected or allowed to operate at full potential. In Yumen City, restrictions in transmitting electric power have become a particular bottleneck for its wind farm operators. Only about 50% of the power generated in local wind farms can access the grid.
The Jiuquan Municipal Development and Reform Committee says that the city has started constructing a new Jinchang-Jiuquan-Guazhou 750 kilovolt transmission and substation project, which was approved by the central government in July 2008. The CNY 11.5 billion ($1.7 billion) transmission line, joining the Northwest China Power Grid and Xinjiang Power Grid, is expected to go into operation at the end of 2010 to send Jiuquan wind power to north and east-central China. Meanwhile, to facilitate transmission efficiency, the city has begun a study into the feasibility of constructing a 1000-kilovolt direct current transmission line. Clearly, any possible improvement to transmission is eagerly awaited.