Asia set to lead world in wind power

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


Asia, led by China, will overtake Europe as the world leader for wind-power generating capacity next year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That's three years earlier than it initially forecast.

And by the end of 2015, the region's use of wind power is also expected to exceed that of Europe by 26 per cent, the association's secretary general, Steve Sawyer, told the China Wind Power conference yesterday.

'A few years ago, we expected Asia to overtake Europe in 2015, but this was revised to 2014 a couple of years ago, 2013 last year and 2012 this year,' he said.

Asia is anticipated to have 107.6 gigawatts of installed capacity by the end of the year, against Europe's 107.3 GW and North America's 61.2 GW. The three regions will account for an estimated 96.5 per cent of global cumulative installations this year.

The expansion of renewable power, such as wind and solar, is highly reliant on government subsidies, since the cost of generating clean energy is higher than fossil-fuel power. However, sharp falls in equipment costs means the need for subsidies will disappear within five years, some analysts have estimated.

Prices of Chinese wind power equipment have fallen by 20 per cent in the past year, according to a report by US brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein. Its analysts said cost advantages made Chinese turbines half the price of European ones.

They estimated that after accounting for transport costs, Chinese turbines are 20 per cent cheaper than European ones, a gap expected to widen to 30 per cent next year, making Chinese turbine makers formidable competitors internationally.

The Global Wind Energy Council has forecast Asia's wind generating capacity will rise at an average annual rate of 24.7 per cent until 2015, compared with 16.3 per cent in North America and 11.1 per cent in Europe.

The main driver behind Asia's growth has been China, whose 44.8 GW of capacity overtook the US' 40.2 GW last year.

But capacity growth in China, at more than 100 per cent in each of the four years to 2009, slowed to 49.5 per cent last year, because of bottlenecks in power distribution capacity and infrastructure problems. About 30 per cent of the nation's 44.7 GW of installed capacity at the end of last year was not generating power last year because of delays in connecting wind farms to the power grid.

Growth is expected to slow further to 26.8 per cent this year, with capacity growth forecast to fall a third to 12 GW this year from last year, according to a Citi research report.

This is partly because the central government has taken back responsibility for approving new wind farm approvals in a bid to rein in disorderly expansion. Another reason is that state-owned regional power monopolies have, for now, stopped connecting wind farms to power grids to allow for shortcomings in equipment and manufacturing to be sorted out.

Beijing hopes China will have 100 GW of wind power generating capacity by 2015. To achieve the target will require additional capacity of just 11 GW a year until then.

Shi Lishan, deputy director of the renewable energy division of the National Energy Board, said technical failures had exposed the industry's vulnerability to unpredictable wind resources.

In each case, hundreds of wind turbines suddenly dropped off the grid, threatening electricity supplies to entire regions.