In 2010, China overtook the United States as the global leader in installed wind power capacity, representing yet another triumph in the much-hyped clean tech race between the world’s two largest economies. Looking beyond the numbers, however, the true nature of China’s wind energy development appears far more bleak.
By Haibing Ma and Lini Fu
According to the newest data released by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA), by the end of 2010, China had installed a total of 41.8 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity, just ahead of the U.S. total of 40.2 GW. Even more impressive is the growth of China’s wind sector: while the United States added only about 5 GW of new capacity in 2010, China installed 16 GW. In 2009, China surpassed the U.S. to become the world leader in clean energy investment.
So why aren’t China’s top energy policymakers celebrating the recent wind capacity milestone, given the country’s unprecedented achievements in renewable energy development? Instead, in a January meeting, officials with the National Energy Administration (NEA) lamented the fact that China still trails the U.S. in the amount of wind power connected to the grid—with only an estimated 31.1 GW grid-tied by the end of 2010.
The reality is that a significant share of China’s installed wind capacity is not connected to any grid. This is wasting a significant amount of investment—not to mention energy. The positive side is that the central government is beginning to address this problem in a more rational way, which hints at a more sustainable approach policy-making as well.