Clean Power

Published on March 13th, 2014 | by Important Media Cross-Post


Wind Leaves Nuclear Behind In China

March 13th, 2014 by  

Originally published on sustainablog.

wind power generation in chinaChina’s Ningxia Yinyi Wind Farm

By J. Matthew Roney

In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China’s wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away—outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State.

Wind- and Nuclear-generated Electricity in China, 1995-2013

Once China’s Renewable Energy Law established the development framework for renewables in 2005, the stage was set for wind’s exponential growth. Wind generating capacity more than doubled each year from 2006 to 2009 and has since increased by nearly 40 percent annually, to reach 91 gigawatts by the end of 2013 (1 gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts). Over 80 percent of this world-leading wind capacity is now feeding electricity to the grid.

Wind generation in 2013 could have been even higher, by an estimated 10 percent, but for the problem known as curtailment—when wind turbines are stopped because the grid cannot handle any more electricity. To help reduce curtailment and reach the official 2020 goal of 200 grid-connected gigawatts, China is building the world’s largest ultra-high-voltage transmission system. The raft of projects now under construction will connect the windier north and west to population centers in the central and eastern provinces.

Why is Wind Power Generation Surpassing Nuclear?

One of the reasons why nuclear power has not kept up with wind in China is the relative time it takes to get a project up and running. Whereas the typical Chinese nuclear reactor takes roughly six years to build, a wind farm can be completed in a matter of months.

Another factor was the interruption of China’s nuclear expansion after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan. The government suspended new reactor approvals until late 2012 and reviewed the safety of both operational and under-construction reactors over several months. Officials also deferred until at least 2015 plans for reactors in non-coastal provinces, where water needed for cooling is highly polluted and in increasingly short supply.

If all 28 gigawatts of nuclear capacity now under construction are completed by 2020, China will have reached 45 gigawatts—22 percent shy of the official capacity target of 58 gigawatts. Some of the more-advanced reactors now being built are seeing cost overruns and schedule delays of a year or more, so the nuclear fleet in 2020 may be even further from the official goal.

Despite its impressive recent growth, wind power still provides less than 3 percent of China’s electricity, well behind hydropower (which typically makes up about 17 percent) and coal, the leading electricity source (at more than 75 percent). But as wind power opens up an even greater lead over nuclear, it is showing the potential to emerge as the safe, scalable, water-sparing backbone of a low-carbon Chinese energy economy.

For more information, see Earth Policy Institute’s latest Wind Power Indicator and the Plan B Update “Fukushima Meltdown Hastens Decline of Nuclear Power,” at

Image credit: Land Rover Our Planet via photopin cc

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    They are authoritarian and we are democratic, who can we compete?

  • Altair IV

    I already have one nuclear meltdown just to the east of me. It certainly doesn’t make me feel any more secure to know that there are a whole fleet of new hazards being built to the west as well. Not only that, but the nuclear cheerleaders keep harping on about how quickly and cheaply they’re being completed, as if having an authoritarian government with no effective supervision pushing hard for quick completion is likely to make me feel any better.
    Actually, to be honest, I’ve never really believed all the hype about the new Chinese nuclear age. My prediction has been that wind/solar/storage/etc. will end up eating their lunch, and that the majority of the new projects will end up being be canceled or quickly mothballed. This article makes for an early confirmation of that.

    • NorskeDiv

      Want to place a bet?

      And by the way, what sort of storage, lead acid batteries, or something more exotic like molten salt? If you’re going to heat up molten salt using solar or wind power, companies will just as soon heat that molten salt up more directly, say with nuclear power, or given the world’s nuclear paranoia, coal and natural gas.

      My bet is the future will be mostly coal powered. Europe is already winding down their big push towards wind and solar yet Germany is still building new coal power plants, there are fifty coal power plants under construction in Europe right now. The UK has already stopped construction of onshore wind farms as people are tired of living next to them and the wind farm installers proceeded in a completely haphazard manner often building giant turbines right next to schools and houses.

      As soon as the economy starts suffering from high electricity prices, it will take but one election cycle to kill off any hope of a large scale switch from coal. The ONLY thing that has even made for a temporary reduction in coal consumption in the US is the fracking boom, without that we would already be onto a new generation of coal plants here as well. That people actually delude themselves into thinking the US will be more capable of moving away from coal than Germany is simply amazing.

      There is already a massive hew and haw about EPA coal regulations, and that’s without them having any effect AT ALL on electricity prices. If natural gas supplies become tight again the little move we are making away from coal will last about a day.

  • JamesWimberley

    China has repeatedly raised, and achieved, its targets for wind and solar. The target for nuclear has not been raised and increasingly looks unrealistic. The political pressures on China’s rulers are to achieve quick results on air pollution – not a vague promise of a clean-air future in 20 years. Nuclear will be relegated, as elsewhere, to the role of backup for wind and solar – a role for which it is technically unsuited.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It looks like China may be in the process of stepping up their nuclear program after a three year slag.

      I ran across an interesting interview with a Chinese official who claims that the pollution problem is not mainly from electricity generating plants but from coal furnaces/stoves and cars.

      “Today, there are approximately 600,000 industrial boilers in China that still use coal-fired boilers and direct coal firing for heating; most of these are in residential areas in urban centers in north China. Taking Beijing as an example, there are still 44,000 households with coal stoves in the western district within 2nd Ring Road; the impact of urban environmental pollution caused from these coal stoves is direct and severe.”

      “the coal use for power plants in is only 4.13% of the total coal use city-wide. The annual PM10 emissions from coal-fired power plants (including PM2.5 emissions) amount to only 0.005% of total PM10 discharged in the area.”

      “emissions to the air and hazards to human health from the pollutants emitted from running vehicles on city roads are most certainly orders of magnitude higher than the equal quantity of pollutants produced from thermal power plants distant from the city”

  • Pieter Siegers

    Great news! And how about solar?

    • Bob_Wallace

      China installed a massive 12 GW of solar in 2013.

      The US has a 12.1 total installed for all years.

      Solar is still a small percentage of supply but accelerating.

  • No way

    Let’s hope that both will increase massively during the next couple of decades (and also wind, hydro and other renewables of course).

    • NorskeDiv

      China needs to expand both, and very quickly, otherwise we will all suffer.

      Notably China is just beginning to get their new nuclear plants online while their construction of wind is slowing down. In kilowatt hours nuclear will take the lead in China within a few years and keep it for at least decades.

      • Bob_Wallace

        China hit a transmission wall with wind. While they build new transmission wind will be slowed a bit. In the meantime solar, since it can be distributed around the grid has taken off like gangbusters.

        Why don’t we review China’s wind, nuclear and solar progress? First, let’s look at electricity produced by wind and nuclear. That’s a good way to compare because it gets all that CF stuff out of the way.

        Hummm….. Wind certainly looks impressive, does it not?

        Then China’s installed solar.

        Once more we have liftoff.

        (BTW, it’s kind of tacky to up rate ones own comments.)

        • NorskeDiv

          So that is nameplate capacity of PV Solar, in other words, China’s solar KWH production does not equal the two AP1000 which already came online this year, not to mention the further six more that will come online this year. Or the 8 the year after that. Or the 10 the year after that. To compete in actual electricity produced, that graph needs to increase its slope, which seems pretty unlikely given the bankruptcy of a number of Chinese PV manufactures and the end of the PV glut.

          China’s build out of wind capacity has been impressive, no doubt about it, but as you say, the grid can only handle so much of an intermittent source. With European and American wind installations slowing down China will be quick to curtail investments in wind turbine production, especially if they are not successful crushing western competition as they were in the case of solar (Every single German PV manufacturer is now dead).

          • Bob_Wallace

            You smokin’ radioactive crack?

            China isn’t bringing reactors on line at that rate. Here’s their start data down at the bottom. You can’t bring them on line if you don’t start building them.

            Bankrupt Chinese solar manufactures? You mean the market shakeout that happened a couple years back when the inefficient players were forced out by the emerging big boys.

            You seem to have a very loose grasp of the facts.

          • A Real Libertarian

            I can’t see the pic.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s try again….

          • NorskeDiv

            China is bringing reactors online at that rate rate higher than that graph implies, especially since it conveniently omits 2014, where 9 reactors already broke ground and a further 7 likely will. Also it is missing two reactors for the 2010-2011 timeframe.

            Even with the ones only actually being constructed, China’s production in total KWH from nuclear will surpass wind and solar for at least a decade. To even match that production WInd needs to be installing 25 gigawatt hours of nameplate capacity every year in China. Just the reactors which broke ground will average 300 Terwatt hours per year once finished, and China’s installation of wind is slowing down, as you pointed out. At the same time China is planning accelerating the construction and approval of new nuclear power plants, so 300 Terwatt hours is likely a low ball.


            As to the racist comment about crack, I won’t dignify that with a response.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “As to the racist comment about crack, I won’t dignify that with a response.”

            Fine, You smokin’ radioactive meth?

            We didn’t mean to imply you have anything less then 100% pure Nordic genes.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The graph does not “conveniently” omit 2014. It’s hard to plot the total for a year than is not yet half finished.

            Can you point me to a better list of China reactor build starts than Wiki where I found those numbers?


            Now, will electricity production by nuclear catch up and pass electricity production by wind?

            We’ll have to wait and see. And when new numbers are available we’ll plot them up.

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