Two International Conferences in China Highlight the Importance of Wind Energy

While the UN climate talks at Tianjin went slowly, a trip to China offered the opportunity for the world to see the successes in wind technology development and deployment experienced there and throughout the region. This progress was highlighted in both a wind-focused side event at the Tianjin conference that Joanna Lewis organized for Georgetown University, and at the annual China Windpower 2010 conference held in Beijing the week after the climate talks.

The Georgetown side event examined models of building renewable energy industries, with specific examples from China and other Asian countries that have become technology leaders in key renewable energy technology industries. Existing renewable energy technologies play an important role in climate change mitigation, and are being developed right now, even as negotiations continue.

Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), examined the current status of the global wind power industry (view Sawyer’s ppt [pdf]). The industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years (including 41.7% growth in new installed capacity in 2009), with Asia becoming the leading region for new wind installations in 2009 and projected to be location of the largest wind power expansion over the next 5 years. He noted that China is now home to the largest wind power technology manufacturing industry in the world, and was the largest market in 2009.

Source: Steve Sawyer, GWEC

Sawyer also pointed out that wind power is playing a very important role in global climate change mitigation. He estimates that 44% of developed country (Annex I) Kyoto targets for 2012 will come from emissions reductions achieved through wind power installations that result in avoided fossil fuel emissions. He ended with some insights about what led to China’s successful entry into the wind industry, including government targets, a national renewable energy law that established an enabling environment for wind, and substantial investments in R&D.

At the wind conference in Beijing, GWEC launched the Global Wind Industry Outlook 2010 in which it suggests that wind could provide one-fifth of the world’s electricity by 2020. In addition, GWEC teamed with Greenpeace and the China Renewable Energy Industries Association to produce the 2010 China Wind Power Outlook. The report examines three scenarios for wind power development in China, and estimates that wind capacity will reach 150 to 230 GW by 2020, and 450 to 680 GW by 2050.

Professor Zhang Xiliang from the Institute for Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University in Beijing focused on the dramatic increases in Chinese production of both wind and solar power technology (view Prof. Zhang’s ppt [pdf]). He observed that China’s success in renewable energy development largely is linked to scientific advancements across disciplines, which were made both inside and outside of China. He explained how China has played a particularly important role in translating scientific discovery into applications in this sector. He further emphasized that additional public policy, as well as international cooperation, could play an important role in continuing to advance both the science and technology.

Joanna Lewis from Georgetown University then presented some of her recent research comparing wind power industry development strategies from China, India, and South Korea (view Lewis’s ppt [pdf]). All late-comers to the wind industry, firms in these 3 countries have entered the industry by acquiring intellectual property and know-how via partnerships with foreign firms. She pointed out how licenses have been a relatively inexpensive way to enter the industry, noting that the licenses frequently come from the same companies. Beyond just licenses, she explained how some of the more innovative firms have been able to tap into global learning/ and innovation networks. Her diagrams of the linkages among firms demonstrate the importance of these networks to companies, regardless of county of origin (view the full working paper).

The week after the Tianjin conference, Beijing hosted the largest ever wind power show in China, China Wind Power 2010. Just as the Chinese industry has been doubling annually, the show has been doubling in size each year. Lewis’ analysis illustrating the interconnectedness of wind technology firms was amply on display. Not only were there wind turbine firms from around the world, the supplier firms were also global, including a large number of US and European firms.

The conference included a record 424 exhibiting companies, a 47% increase over 2007. Hot issues under discussion at the conference included which emerging second and third tier Chinese wind manufacturers were likely to have a shot at dethroning the top 3 manufacturers Sinovel, Dongfang and Goldwind; and how to deal with the grid integration issues that are proving to be the key barrier to wind development in China. While the leading foreign turbine manufacturers and project developers were in attendance and expressed recurring frustrations with market access, mutually beneficial cooperation between emerging economies and foreign firms continues. For example, global wind technology leader Vestas announced that it was opening a $50 million wind R&D center in Beijing—the first R&D center established by a foreign company in China that is exclusively focused on wind power technology.

Photos courtesy of Tian Tian.