Energy at east

China is chasing the wind

The Asian colossus has the world’s largest producer of wind energy. Plus, it’s leading in many renewable energy sectors

As for renewable energy investments, China seems to have no competition. Figures published by the Global Energy Council at the end of February show how Chinese government has installed a larger number of wind farms, both onshore and offshore, than any other country.

China is approaching the end of its 13th Energy Technology Innovation Five-Year Plan. The plan specifically mentions wind energy as a focus point, identifying wind turbines with a production capacity of between 8 and 10 MW as a key technology. By the end of 2020, China aims to have 210 GW of grid-connected wind energy capacity.

As for renewable energy investments, China seems to have no competition.

Wind energy isn’t the only renewable field where China is a global leader. A recent report from the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation pointed to China as the country in the best position to “become the world’s renewable energy superpower”.

China is now the world leader in production, export, and installation of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles. It aims to break free from fossil fuels, on which it still depends, in the next decades (coal 60,4% and crude oil 18,8% in 2017). China is expected to reach 26% of renewable energy by 2030 and 86% of renewable electricity by 2050.

There are several reasons for China’s decision to focus on renewable energy and particularly on wind. The first reason is geopolitical: renewable investments help to reduce energy dependency from other countries.

The second reason is environment and health related: seven of the most polluted cities in the world are in China and air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths every year (1,6 million in 2016, approximately 17% of mortality in the entire country).

China aims to break free from fossil fuels, on which it still depends, by 2050.

Not all of China’s efforts and initiatives are bearing fruit. While the last decade has seen strong investments in the entire renewable energy sector, it seems that Chinese wind farms are producing less electricity than they potentially could. Bad connections, not optimal turbine models and inefficient wind farms location have all lowered the actual use of wind energy.

Besides, we must consider the sheer size of the country and the fact that much of its energy production potential is located northwest, while most of the population is southeast.

This is one of the reasons why China is currently building the Changji Guguan, the largest transmission line in the world, a 1.1 million-volt giant line capable of delivering 12,000 MW of electricity, enough for 26.5 million people all over across China.

While this and similar lines will be used to transport renewable energy, most of the electricity transported through them will still come from traditional power sources.

China is a global leader when it comes to the production of renewables, and the same goes for renewable energy patents. In 2016 Chinese companies and organizations had 150.000 renewable energy patents, equal to 29% of the global total. U.S. competitors reached only 100.000.

Not all of China’s efforts and initiatives are bearing fruit.

As Forbes reported, among the ambitious ideas Chinese researchers have been working on, there is the idea to build a solar power station in space, beaming back energy to Earth as microwaves.

The official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced scientists are already testing the new technology and intend to have it constructed by 2050.

Apart from long term projects, as recently reported by the Economist, the energy transition would bring China geopolitical benefits far larger than the ones resulting from control of oil wells and pipelines.

Everything will depend on how China will combine its manufacturing capacity with international agreements, which allow a larger number of countries to export energy power.