Clean Power

Published on November 12th, 2014 | by Joshua S Hill

25

Who’s Winning The Wind Race? China Or The US?

November 12th, 2014 by  

Much has been made of China’s meteoric wind energy installation figures over the past few years, seeing them top the charts of wind installed at over 90 GW. However, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), just because China has the most wind energy installed does not mean they are producing the most wind energy — a title AWEA believes should go to the US.

According to AWEA, measuring how much total electricity is generated and delivered is “a better measure” of a country’s wind energy performance.

For 2013, according to recent reports by the International Energy Agency and the Global Wind Energy Council, China delivered just under 138 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind energy.

The US, on the other hand, according to the American Wind Energy Association and the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, produced over 167 billion kWh — more than 20% over that of China.

US wind energyu

“This confirms what many in the wind industry have thought for some time: that by the important measure of energy delivered to the grid, the United States is the # 1 wind energy producer in the world,” writes James Walker, a member of AWEA.

Splitting Hairs

No one is going to disagree with AWEA on this one, as the figures speak for themselves. America is generating and delivering more wind energy than China is. However, the question is raised just how much AWEA is splitting hairs in an effort to showcase its home country as the premier wind energy developer in the world. The reality is that time is as much a factor in determining a country’s “leadership” as generating capacity and actual generation levels are.

The two graphs provided below by the Global Wind Energy Council show that the US has had several more years than China to integrate wind energy into the grid, allowing for AWEA’s findings above. This does not contradict the AWEA’s findings, but rather it simply places them in their correct place.

China

GWEC-China

United States

GWEC-America

In 2001, China is shown to have had a total of 404 MW of wind energy capacity installed, compared to the United States’ 4,275. It is only by 2010 that China overtakes the US in terms of cumulative installed capacity — a figure which explodes each year following.

The greater capacity earlier in the decade allowed the United States the opportunity to better integrate wind energy into the grid. China, on the other hand, has seen expansive growth over the last five years, but will still be attempting to efficiently integrate the energy derived from this expansion into its grids — a trickier task in a non-OECD country with millions of its population living off-grid.

Global wind leadership may currently reside with the US, but I’d argue that point right now. China’s policies and will to develop a strong wind industry top the US industry, which is likely only to sour further after the most recent congressional election saw a hostile-Republican Congress take power.

From the International Energy Agency, China shows year after year that it is more committed to renewable energy expansion than the whole of the OECD combined.

GWEC-Global

That AWEA has convinced itself a plateauing wind energy generation figure has successfully transferred “leadership” status from China to the US is a little unfair — and temporary to boot.





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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • Michael G

    The last graph is extremely odd. It shows consistent growth in the past and then projects no growth at all in the future.

    • GCO

      Yes it’d be nice if things were labelled, otherwise we’re left guessing what it means.

      My take, given that some amounts decrease measurably from one year to the next, is that this is a forecast of the capacity added each year.
      Basically, growth goes from the almost-exponential we saw so far to more or less linear.

    • JamesWimberley

      Yes. It’s a very common failing in the renewable business. It looks “serious” to distrust the trend and put a lower estimate, usually without any reason being given. The simplest baseline heuristic is simply this: the future will be like the past. The past shows rapid growth in wind and very rapid growth in solar. So will the future, unless ….

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s installed capacity per year, not cumulative installations.

      Perhaps what they are saying is ~120 GW per year is the expected rate of installation, the long straight part of the adoption curve. At least the rate expected today based on costs, rate of thermal plant retirement, demand changes, and carbon pricing.

      I think what many of these projections miss is the likely increase in concern over climate change.

  • David in Bushwick

    What’s going on with Germany? They’ve hardly increased wind power in the last seven years.

    • Offgridman

      I think that installations have continued but with more of a concentration on offshore, which takes longer coordination and installation times.
      The past couple of years have seen heavy concentration on grid improvements and storage installations, as well as energy efficiency programs to make the best use of what they already have instead of sending it out of the country during peak production.
      The Energiewende is still an active and growing program though.

      • Larmion

        Offshore is indeed taking a bit more time than planned, but the main reason is falling electricity demand. http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/data-nivc-/electricity-production-from-solar-and-wind-in-germany-2014.pdf

        Renewable generation barely went up this year and hydro has had a horrible year, yet fossil fuel consumption (gas and hard coal especially) stil saw their use fall sharply. The explanation is simple: power consumption is falling fast.

        And that makes me happy. Renewable electricty is great, but simply using less energy is still the cheapest and cleanest option of them all. It starts in your own home: the ROI from using 1W less through installing, say, an LED, is vastly higher than the ROI on replacing 1W of electricity with solar PV on your roof.

    • Ulenspiegel

      The official German production data for 2007-2013 are; source AGEB :

      39,7 TWh
      40,6
      38,6
      37,8
      48,9
      50,7
      51,7

      At the same time we see an increase of installed capacity according to the Fraunhofer Windmonitor:

      22,1 GW
      23.6
      25.4
      26.7
      28.6
      30.8
      33.7

      The years 2012 and 2013 were very bad wind years.

  • JamesWimberley

    Please, even rhetorically, it’s not a “war” but a race. Everybody wins, as in a popular marathon.

    China’s big problem in integrating wind into the grid is nothing to do with offgrid farmers, but simple geography. The best wind resource is in Inner Mongolia, an arid region remote from centres of population. Iowa is densely populated and central in comparison. It also looks as if the monopoly grid operator is arthritic and has failed to adapt to the rapid changes in supply; they have had similar problems in connecting utility solar plants.

    Grid planning for the new régime is difficult everywhere. There have been lesser hiccups in Britain, Germany, and the US, where the Tres Amigas interconnector – which will for the first time create a single grid in the USA out of three isolated ones – has still not broken ground. Hint to line planners: cut NIMBY opposition with superior design.

    • Offgridman

      Agreed that the ‘war’ rhetoric is not going to help this situation. In the US our ‘war on terrorism’ over the past decade+ has caused more problems than not in our interactions with countries in the middle east and other areas. Unfortunately it looks like the UK government is making the mistake of going down that same road.
      Wanted to ask you about the picture, is that what is used now over there for high tension lines, or is it from someplace else?
      In the US I have only ever seen the old fashioned steel framed towers that look like smaller versions of the Eiffel tower, and more recently huge concrete mono poles.
      The ones that you show are much more attractive, if that will help get people to be more amenable to grid expansions, I’m not sure. But it definitely shouldn’t hurt.

      • Larmion

        Concrete monopoles for the big high voltage lines? That’s something I haven’t seen before. Not very sensible if you ask me.

        The mini Eiffel towers (lattice masts) are not just used in the US, they’re the standard almost everywhere – including in Europe. The reason for that is simple: few constructions have a similar structural strength and none achieve it with as little material as a lattice mast needs.

        The biggest difference between both sides of the Atlantic is in the small street-level pylons. Those are typically buried in Europe, whereas America still sticks to timber or steel masts. Since those are rather shoddily built (understandable, as you need millions of them), they cause a disproportionate number of power cuts after storms or heavy snow.

        The typical German Fachwerk houses have used the same principle for centuries: a timber lattice frame offers structural strength, while you can fill the gaps with something cheap and isolating like willow twigs.

        • Offgridman

          The concrete monopoles are very common in Florida and the Gulf region, I have heard that it is because they are resistant to storm damage.
          The lattice masts (wasn’t sure of the right name before) were very common in NY and the Northeast 30-40 years ago, but I don’t know if that is still true. When I was still in school up there it was a common challenge or dare to climb one until you were close enough to the wires to make your hair stand on end from the static fields. Remember a couple of acquaintances that died following through on these dares too, so hope that that trend has passed.

      • JamesWimberley

        It’s a design called Roseau (reed). for the backbone 400KV grid of the French grid operator RTE, by the designer Marc Mimram. It’s pricey: €580,000 a pop according to Mimram, but that’s for a tiny pilot run of only 8 pylons crossing the environmentally sensitive Somme valley in Picardy. Still much cheaper than burial, or no line at all thanks to NIMBY opposition; and it would come down a lot with mass production and value engineering. More modern pylon designs in my blog post here (link).

        • Offgridman

          Thanks for the info.

      • Agreed, and well said. I’ve edited the name now.

        • Offgridman

          Thank you for understanding the issue, but part of the credit for bringing it up needs to go to James because he is the one that did so initially.

    • Larmion

      Nicer transmission lines would be a partial solution, but there are many people who attack power lines for reasons other than pylon design:

      a) Utterly and completely irrational fears of ‘radiation’ coming from power lines.
      b) Opposition to any manmade structure no matter how elegant in certain areas of outstanding natural beauty.
      c) Impact on local birds (wrong, but still often cited by opposition groups)

      Also, latticework pylons are used to day because they are cheap and extremely sturdy. The designs proposed in this image would need considerable reinforcement to have the same strength and stability an old-fashioned latticemast offers naturally. As costs rise, you’ll have campaign groups saying ‘why not bury it, the price gap isn’t that big anymore’ – thereby ignoring that even small cost savings add up rapidly for long distance transmission.

      • JamesWimberley

        What about ice build up? Roseau and its far more common predecessor Muguet, with tapered steel tube towers, must be more iceproof, and I would guess cheaper to maintain.

        Big lattices are very intrusive visually. Paying for amenity and good design is often very worthwhile. A parallel shift – driven AFAICT by considerations of strength rather than aesthetics – has made a huge difference to the public acceptance of wind turbines.

        • Offgridman

          Ice build up on the poles or lattice frames wasn’t usually an issue as I remember from my experience up north. It was more of an issue on the wires that were set up closer to their design specs allowing for capacity of voltage and shrinkage/expansion during summer/winter temperature change.
          Don’t want to allow to much slack as it increases line loss due to extra length, nor to tight as the winter shrinkage will put to much stress on the connections at the poles.
          Running high tension lines is an engineering balancing act in and of itself, as each section is done according to load and distance to or from the main interconnect along with allowing for ambient temperature when doing so, and whatever peak winds might be expected at that site.

  • Stefano Tapper

    “let alone that of Denmark, Sweden or Norway”.

    The day China is generating the same renewable consumption as Sweden, of which the 2012 EU stat put them at 51% would mean 1.5 TW of rewewables; so perhaps a little while to go. The same for America, would put them at 2 TW.

    Also China’s production is still growing so can anyone really be surprised at the demand for coal at a short term level, compared to an unknown long term outlook? Anyway positives coming out from the summit

  • Larmion

    Your look at China is remarkably rosey. For all its supposedly deep commitment to renewable energy, its carbon emissions are still rising fast and air quality in its urban areas is amongst the worst in the world.

    As for the lower capacity factor: there’s more at play there than just poor grid connection (though that plays a role). Government planning has favored large projects, built mainly using domestic turbines (that at least in the past had a far higher failure rate and a higher cut-in speed than western desings) and in sites that where often improperly assessed for their wind potential.

    Meanwhile, wind growth in the US and Germany has been more organic, with smaller, optimally placed projects.

    Oh, and ‘more commited than the OECD combined’? At current growth trends, it will still take China decades to achieve the level of renewable penetration Germany has, let alone that of Denmark, Sweden or Norway. Saying that China’s extremely modest and non-binding targets (which tend to favor carbon intensity reductions rather than net carbon reductions) are more stringent than those set by European countries is laughable.

      • Larmion

        So China says it will allow its carbon emissions to rise until 2030, despite already having per capita emissions comparable to many European countries.

        That’s… not very ambitious, to put it mildly.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, China has said that it will not allow carbon emissions to keep rising after 2030.

          There’s a difference. China is leaving itself room to stop carbon emissions before 2030.

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