Offshore wind farms could power China’s coast

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Offshore wind farms could power China’s heavily populated coastal regions as it looks to meet obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, according to Harvard University researchers.

China is on track to achieve double the agreement’s commitment of relying on renewable resources for 20% of its energy needs by 2030.

Wind power capacity has grown from 0.3GW to 161GW in 20 years, but growth has slowed in recent years, partly due to location.

Coastal provinces including Guangdong and Jiangsu consume about 80% of China’s electricity but the majority of wind capacity comes from remote regions such as Inner Mongolia.

Recent climate studies suggest that the weakening land-sea temperature gradient is making historically windy regions like Inner Mongolia less windy.

Much of the wind power is not used, with 16% of potential wind generation being wasted between 2010 and 2016, costing more than US$1.2bn.

A study by researchers from Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Huazhong University of Science and Technology says offshore wind could be a big part of the solution.

Michael McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at SEAS and senior author of the paper, said, “This is an important new contribution, recognition that China has abundant offshore wind potential that can be developed and brought onshore to the power-hungry coastal provinces at costs competitive with existing coal-fired polluting power plants.”

To calculate the capacity and cost of offshore wind, the researchers identified the regions where the farms could be built, calculating the windspeeds in those areas and estimated the hourly capacity for each of the turbines.

They found that the total potential wind power from wind farms built along the Chinese coast is 5.4 times larger than the current coastal demand for power.

Peter Sherman, a graduate student at the department of Earth and Planetary Science, said, “Offshore wind turbines have historically been prohibitively expensive, but it is clear now that, because of significant technological advances, the economics have changed such that offshore wind could be cost-competitive now with coal and nuclear power in China.”

Researchers estimate that offshore wind could provide more than 1,000TWh, or 36% of coastal energy demand, when electricity prices are high.

When prices are low, researchers estimate it could provide more than 6,000TWh, or 200% of total demand.

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