ANALYSIS: China, Japan take the lead in wind energy development – Russia lags far behind

MOSCOW – China has taken online its largest offshore wind farm yet – another step toward the goal of boosting the share of wind energy in China’s total energy production to 17 percent by 2050. While China prefers buying new green technologies, Japan seeks to come up with its own – such as the innovative “wind lens” design that could triple the output of wind turbines and help smooth the transition from nuclear power to cleaner and safer energy sources. Russia, alas, seems in no hurry to realize its own immense wind energy potential.

China, which is fast becoming a world leader in renewable energy development, has two new impressive projects to boast of. One is a large wind farm that has been in operation in the Taiyangshan Development Zone in Wuzhong, a city in the northwestern province Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, near the Mongolian border, since September 22, 2011. The 215-square-mile zone has the advantages of both strong wind and solar power, resulting in 300 megawatts of wind power and 100 megawatts of photovoltaic power, UPI reports in its January 5 story, calling Taiyangshan China’s “biggest clean energy base.”

«Ветровые линзы» - инновационная японская разработка

«Ветровые линзы» – инновационная японская разработка

While the semideserts of the Taiyangshan area have been rightly recognized for the sizable clean energy potential they offer, experts also point to the advantages of the coastal areas in the east of the country, where most of China’s industry and other energy consumers are concentrated and where wind energy projects could be especially attractive for investors.

It is in fact on the eastern shoreline, in the Jiangsu province’s city of Rudong, that China’s largest wind power producer, Longyuan Power, connected 99.3 megawatts of wind turbines to the grid last December 28, a January 3 story by the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

The new turbines were added to the existing 32 megawatts of wind capacity, which went into operation in September 2010, currently taking the combined capacity to 131.3 megawatts of wind power now integrated to the grid – and projected to reach a total of 150 megawatts in installed capacity when the first stage is completed in March 2012 – in a pilot intertidal project that has become China’s largest offshore wind farm, the story said.

Intertidal refers to areas that are above water at low tide and under water at high tide, UPI explained in its January story about the Rudong project.

The intertidal wind farm will generate altogether 330 million kilowatts of electric power for the grid, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 267,000 tons and sulfur dioxide by 1,940 tons – while saving 97,000 tons of standard coal, said a statement by Longyuan Jiangsu Offshore Wind Power as quoted by UPI.

Built on the flat lands of the Yellow Sea coastline, an area that gets submerged in rising tide, the wind farm is something of a cross between an offshore design and a wind park situated on land. The advantages of such a wind farm are that the site is built at a comfortable distance from residential and industrial areas while at the same time both using the strong coastline winds and allowing investors to save on costs associated with installing wind turbines far out at sea. 

Construction on the facility began in June 2009 with a $397 million investment for the 150-megawatt first phase, UPI said.

Major turbine producers flock to China’s blossoming wind market

With dozens of billions of dollars invested in wind energy year in and year out, China has well established itself as a world leader in wind power development. Joint ventures have sprung up in the sector, with Chinese entrepreneurs merging interests with such market heavyweights as the US General Electric, Germany’s Siemens, and South Korea’s Hyundai. This cooperation opens the doors for China’s wind energy investors willing to employ the latest in wind power technologies in their new projects.

And equipment producers do appreciate the prospects the fast-growing Chinese market is offering.

In February 2011, a joint venture was created between Siemens and China’s wind turbine producer Shanghai Electric to supply Siemens-made blades to the Chinese market. The following June, Longyuan handed Siemens its first ever offshore turbine order in China – 21 units of 2.3-megawatt turbines – for the Rudong intertidal project, the January 3 Xinhua story said.

And last December, Shanghai Electric and Siemens announced plans to expand their existing collaboration and set up two new joint ventures, the story also said.

“We see good opportunities for offshore wind power in China with its shallow water near the consumption centers on the coast,” the Xinhua story quoted Siemens Wind Power CEO Jens-Peter Saul as saying. “This order is an important step in entering the rapidly growing Chinese wind power market.”

Last September, Spain’s Gamesa announced its plans to expand its share on the Chinese market, with Gamesa’s new chief executive for China Jose Antonio Miranda saying he hoped to introduce the company’s upcoming offshore wind turbine, G11X 5MW, to China within the next two years, Xinhua reported.

Gamesa opened its sixth manufacturing plant in Tianjin city last November, taking Gamesa’s capacity in China to 1 gigawatt’s worth of assembly output, Xinhua said.

And Hyundai Heavy Industries said in September it expected to generate sales of $300 million a year by 2015 from a new wind turbine factory in China, the Xinhua story continued, quoting Kim Kwean Tae, head of low-carbon business at Hyundai, as saying: “China is a market you can’t ignore.”

Wind vs. nuclear

Wind power clearly has competitive advantages over nuclear even where the nuclear power industry’s overwhelming safety risks – an ever-present threat that once again turned into a grim reality with the eruption last March of the still ongoing crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan – are not taken into account.

At $397 million in investment funds for the first 150 megawatts of the intertidal project at Rudong, the capital costs come to around $2,650 per kilowatt of installed capacity. That is almost twice as low as what is currently the average in nuclear construction, at between $3,000 and $4,500 per kilowatt of nuclear power. 

Furthermore, wind parks are less technologically and economically challenging where maintenance is concerned, they do not require the expensive and environmentally taxing uranium fuel, and, equally importantly, they do not produce dangerous waste. Where the risks of ecological impact and consequences for human health and safety are considered, no accident at a wind farm can reasonably compare to one at a nuclear reactor. Both economic and environmental and safety factors are what makes wind energy an attractive investment sector fast gaining a lead over nuclear power plants.

The Chinese seem to recognize the industry’s potential. The Xinhua story cites China’s Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050, recently issued by the energy research institute of National Development and Reform Commission, as indicating China’s push to develop the market is set to result in a total of 1,000 gigawatts of installed wind capacity by 2050. That will increase the share of wind power in the country’s total electricity consumption to 17 percent. So far, wind power generation accounts for 1.5 percent of national power generation – a figure commensurate with the 2-percent share currently held by nuclear energy.

The logic behind Beijing’s policy is simple: The country has rich wind resources available to tap into for safe and commercially rewarding energy production. This drives the efforts that have already brought tangible results: Long-term targets have been set, backed up by scientifically grounded research, and market incentives provided for both domestic and foreign investors. On the production end, up-to-date technologies are being purchased and joint ventures signed, as wind power equipment manufacturers set up factories, spurring along a new national industry and creating additional jobs. Banking on the sector’s lucrative prospects, China may well be set to become the world’s leading producer and exporter of wind turbines in the near future.   

Russia’s way: More nuclear, less rational

What prevents Russia from learning from China’s successes? Ever since its inception in the middle of last century, the nuclear industry has never lacked in loyalty and lavish financial support from the government – even as the Russian leaders both turn a blind eye on the industry’s economic failings and catastrophic safety record and ignore the global trend toward promoting the more profitable and climate and environmentally friendly renewable energy technologies. 

Russia’s far northern Murmansk Region, on the Kola Peninsula, is one where the expansive wind energy potential remains unjustifiably underappreciated. A 2007 report commissioned by Bellona and prepared by the Kola Science Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Prospects for Development of Non-Conventional and Renewable Sources of Energy on the Kola Peninsula, estimated the region’s wind energy potential at a whopping 360 billion kilowatt-hours annually – over 20 times the current demand.

In 2006, Murmansk Region’s then governor Yury Yevdokimov lent his support to the local scientists and ecologists’ proposal to raise the share of wind power in the region’s total energy production complex to 20 percent by 2020. The authorities’ support dwindled down rapidly, however, with the appointment of Yevdokimov’s successor, Dmitry Dmitriyenko, to the governor’s post. A marked shift in local policy has paralyzed the activities of a working group that was to pool various industry sectors’ efforts to develop renewable energy in the region and placed an indefinite hold on two projects that envisioned construction of wind parks, of 200- and 100-megawatt capacity, respectively. The Kola Science Center’s draft program for the development of renewable energy in Murmansk Region is yet to be endorsed.

Meanwhile, the nuclear industry is actively pushing for a questionable experiment with “boosting” one of the reactors at the old Kola Nuclear Power Plant, increasing the aged reactor’s thermal capacity to 107 percent. Kola’s oldest reactors continue to operate beyond their designed useful life terms, with what local prosecutors insisted were illegally renewed licenses.

Russia’s determination to rely on dangerous and outdated technologies while disregarding safer and more economically promising ones stands in sharp contrast with its eastern neighbor’s choice. But the example of China, whose booming growth has already secured it the ranking of the world’s second largest economy, is lost on Russia, where wind power still constitutes less than one percent of the energy market and where the rich renewable energy resources are yet to be put to use in any ambitious development plans.

Japan’s “wind lens” technology could mark departure from many years of nuclear reign

And farther east, the nuclear power industry may have to retreat even more from its previously undefeated market positions as Japan, one of the global nuclear empires, is refocusing its energy development strategy on renewable energy sources following the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi last spring.

Japan’s geography affords it little luxury in building an expansive network of onshore wind parks – a problem China, with its vast territory, does not have to contend with. Japan, thus, is concentrating its efforts on enhancing the efficiency of existing wind power technologies, including developing new approaches to offshore wind park construction.  

One such innovation was first tried in field tests on Kyushu University’s campus last March, a story by Energy Digital reports. A brainchild of Kyushu University’s team led by Yuji Ohya, a professor of renewable energy dynamics and applied mechanics, the new wind turbine system is touted as a design capable to generate two to three times more energy than existing wind power converters – thereby dramatically reducing associated energy production costs.

The new technology, dubbed “wind lens,” promises to solve at once two major problems that have been found discouraging with traditional turbines – their general inefficiency and noise pollution.   

By attaching an inward curving ring around the perimeter of a turbine’s blades, Kyushu’s researchers were able to increase by two to three times the speed of air flowing through the blade zones. The ring also serves as a safety improvement, as it covers the outer edges of the blades, and reduces noise levels, Energy Digital reports.

Ветропарк в Нинся-Хуэйском автономном районе Китая

Ветропарк в Нинся-Хуэйском автономном районе Китая

Chris Takashi Matsuuar, a collaborator working in the UK to promote the Windlens globally, is quoted by Energy Digital as saying the team is looking to develop a whole new turbine system, “including not only the lens shroud, but also the blades, generator, controller, etc. […] The best way [to move forward] is to replace old turbines as a whole with our new smart Windlens system.”

The Kyushu team has also designed a hexagonal-shaped base for the turbines that would be low in cost, but still strong enough to endure marine conditions, Energy Digital’s story continued, adding that the bases would also make it easier to link other turbines at sea together and enlarge platforms.

So far, wind power accounts for less than one percent of all energy produced in Japan – but it has all it takes to replace the existing nuclear capacities if Japan continues on its path toward nuclear phase-out as promised by the government in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The field tests, which included two units of 70- to 100-kilowatt wind turbines, are so far a first step, and between several months and two years may be required before the new technology starts to pull its weight in Japan’s energy generation complex, Energy Digital’s story said.

But it quotes Matsuuar as saying that “Windlens has already attracted great expectations globally and will make a huge, real impact for the power generation in not only Japan, but also in the U.K., E.U., U.S., Canada and other parts of the world, as soon as the field test gives good results on the designed performance and safety.”