China is serious about wind power. At the end of 2010, its installed wind capacity was estimated at 40 GW, making it the largest wind market in the world; by 2020, its total wind capacity is expected to reach 300 GW. The country is home to approximately 80 tier-one wind-turbogenerator manufacturers, which collectively provide 70 percent of the domestic market’s needs, according to China Outlook Consulting. Three of those companies—Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., Dongfang Electric Corp. and Sinovel Wind Group Co.—are ranked among the world’s top 10 wind turbine makers.
Sinovel chairman and president Han Junliang has said the company’s objective in the next five years is to “become the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world.” Like many Chinese companies, Beijing-based Sinovel relies on international partnerships to gain technological expertise. American Superconductor Corp. (AMSC; Devens, Mass.)., for example, has been providing Sinovel with components, engineering support services and power electronics for its 1.5-, 3- and 5- MW wind turbines since 2005.
Last month, Sinovel and AMSC announced a joint development agreement for a range of wind turbines up to 6 MW that Sinovel plans to market and sell worldwide. The Chinese company expects to begin volume production by the end of 2012 and as part of the agreement will purchase core electrical components from AMSC.
AMSC has development and licensing agreements with five other Chinese wind turbine companies in addition to Sinovel, including Dongfang Electric and XJ Group. “China is central to our global strategy,” said an AMSC spokesman.
Looking ahead, AMSC’s next generation of technology for the wind power market incorporates a high-temperature superconductor wire, called Amperium, as a copper wire replacement in turbine generators. The new material will let manufacturers reduce the size and weight of their turbines, according to the company. Dubbed SeaTitan, AMSC’s new turbine design will increase power capacity to 10 MW, up from 6 MW. As the new design’s name implies, AMSC is targeting offshore installations, where the size and weight of the turbine are critical factors in the cost.
China’s first offshore wind farm installation, the Donghai Bridge Wind Farm, is located about six miles off the coast of Shanghai in the East China Sea and has 34 3-MW turbines, for a combined capacity of 102 MW. Built by Sinovel and co-developed with AMSC, the wind farm has been operational for a year and supplies Shanghai with about 1 percent of its energy needs.
Sinovel offshore wind farm.
Source: Sinovel Wind Group Co.
It has been reported that China plans to install up to 30 GW of offshore wind power by 2020. AMSC is exploring development contracts for SeaTitan and expects to sign development contracts as early as 2013 and to begin volume production by mid-decade, its spokesman said.
For China’s solar industry, the biggest challenge to growth is steady and substantial access to capital, subsidies and other incentives. Chinese solar companies have benefited from government support, but further investment is needed to ensure the domestic solar market takes off.
State-run China Development Bank Corp. last year agreed to lend $17 billion in total to Yingli Green Energy Holdings Co., Suntech Power Holdings Co. and Trina Solar Ltd.. The three are among the largest solar companies in the country, and all are on the top 10 global list.
In December, it was reported that four Chinese government agencies had given the domestic solar photovoltaics industry a shot in the arm by announcing further support to spur development and scale production in a bid to bring unit costs down. The strategy includes funding for 13 development projects around the country that were announced in 2009 and 2010.
Some of those projects offer opportunities for foreign companies. Top-ranked solar PV manufacturer First Solar (Phoenix), for example, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in September 2009 with Ordos City to develop a multiphase project that will eventually deliver 2 GW of power generation to the Inner Mongolia city. Phase 1 of the project, formalized last month, will be a 30-MW demonstration project. Phases 2, 3 and 4 will be production of 100, 870 and 1,000 MW, respectively. First Solar has said it will be the panel supplier for all phases of the project.
Although there has been some progress on the first phase—notably the announcement last month of a panel manufacturing agreement between First Solar and China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co.—construction has been delayed pending announcement of a feed-in tariff that would provide an economic underpinning for the project. A feed-in tariff is a premium paid by utilities and often passed along to consumers to cover the true cost of generating the renewable energy. The tariff subsidizes production of the energy until its cost reaches grid parity.
“An appropriately set national feed-in-tariff structure would allow market participants to secure a reasonable rate of return to make further investment in technology and cost reductions,” said a First Solar spokesman. “In our view, this is critical to the development of a sustainable and long-term solar market in China.
“We are hopeful that a feed-in tariff will be set in time to allow the expected start of Ordos Phase 1 construction this year.
|Ordos City vice mayor Cao Zhichen (l.) and First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn sign the 2009 MOU that launched the Ordos City Solar Demonstration Project.