China's wind energy industry spirals higher
China may get 11% of its energy from non-hydro renewables by 2020, BNEF says. Photo: Nicolas Walker
China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind turbines in 2012 and is on course to beat the government’s 2015 target of 100 gigawatts of generation capacity by more than a year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) data.
Wind energy in China now accounts for 5.3 per cent of the country’s generating capacity and supplies about 2 per cent of its electricity, placing it behind only coal and hydro power.
While new installations slowed from 2011’s record levels, China’s 15.9GW of new wind capacity exceeded the 15.5GW of new hydro power and dwarfed the 1.2GW of solar and 700 megawatts of nuclear capacity added last year.
“This year however, project approvals have sped up and we forecast a modest recovery in both financing activity and construction in 2013,” Demi Zhu, China wind analyst at BNEF, said. “The fact that China wind overtook nuclear as a generation source even in its most challenging year of recent times is a testament to the massive scale and momentum of the industry in this country.”
China’s adoption of renewable energy has surprised many, with some Australian commentators projecting wind and solar to contribute only 0.3 per cent of China’s electricity supply by 2020. According to preliminary BNEF research, some 11 per cent of total electricity generation by 2020 will come from non-hydro renewable sources, said Jun Ying, head of China research.
At about 2 per cent of current electricity supply, though, wind energy is "far from being sufficient to ease China's current severe air pollution issue in any noticeable way," Mr Ying said.
Last year, the country added 80GW of capacity – larger than Australia’s total - with coal-fired places accounting for about 60 per cent of that increase, BNEF said.
New investment in wind was worth $US27.2 billion ($26.1 billion) in 2012, down 12 per cent. Turbine costs, though, fell 10 per cent as suppliers, mostly home-grown, cut prices.
Separately, developers of wind farms in Australia have cause for cheer after a study commissioned by South Australia’s Environment Protection Authority into infrasound levels near windfarms gave the industry its stamp of approval.
“The level of infrasound at houses near the wind turbines assessed is no greater than that experienced in other urban and rural environments, and that the contribution of wind turbines to the measured infrasound levels is insignificant,” the report found.
Russell Marsh, policy director of the Clean Energy, said the findings "show that the real contributors to infrasound are things like air-conditioners, traffic and urban office environments – not wind farms.”
"This is yet another clean bill of health for wind farms, which have been proven time and time again to cause no negative health impacts from noise," Mr Marsh said.
"In fact, the lowest levels of infrasound were recorded at one of the houses closest to a wind farm, whereas the highest levels were found in an urban office building," he said.