Wind power overtakes nuclear in China… for now
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Wind power overtakes nuclear in China… for now

Wind power is now China’s third largest energy resource, behind thermal power and hydropower, according to data released recently by the China Wind Energy Association (CWEA).

This development comes after wind power surpassed nuclear power. During a congress held last weekend, it was also announced that wind-generated electricity in China amounted to 1,004 billion kilowatt-hours in 2012.

“This change is in accordance with the government’s efforts to increase its use of renewable energy as a means to reduce carbon emissions and cut reliance on fossil fuels,” says Li Linghuan, an energy industry analyst at Shandong-based consultancy Sublime China Information.

However, China’s current proportion of nuclear power, 2 percent, is set to double by 2020. The first ever third-generation nuclear power station is currently being built in Zhejiang province.

“The electricity made by one nuclear unit here (in Zhejiang) can save 3 million tons of coal, and decrease carbon emissions by 8 million tons,” said Li Haitao, from the China State Nuclear Power Engineering Company.

For years, China’s wind power capabilities developed at a blistering pace. However, this slowed dramatically in 2012.

According to a Greenpeace report called “China Wind Power Outlook 2012”, the key issues for  the wind power sector are how to break the intrinsic restrictions on the traditional market and how to take the next step in promoting the emerging markets in eastern and central China.

One such project, the most recent wind farm built in China, is situated off the coast of Jiangsu province. It will supply up to 190,000 residents with renewable energy every year.

“It marks the country’s entry into the new era of developing large, offshore wind-energy projects,” said Zhou Qinsheng, a climate and energy expert.

In 2011, a 49.5-megawatt (MW) wind farm was also built in southwest China’s Yunnan province, on Dajianfeng Mountain. It is 2,000-2,500 meters above sea level in the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, with a total investment of around 483 million yuan ($76.7 million).

By the end of 2010, about 90 percent of China’s existing wind farms were located at altitudes below 1,000 meters. According to specialists, high-altitude projects are expensive due to two factors: high construction costs and doubts about if the projects can be profitable.

For Greenpeace, among all the renewable energies, “wind power is at a mature stage in terms of the technology and possesses the best prospects for large-scale commercial development. It is growing more and more competitive against traditional energy sources as the industry continues to grow and production costs continue to fall.”

According to the 12th Five-Year Plan that continues until year 2015, China’s offshore wind power generating capacity is expected to reach 5 gigawatts by 2015 and 30 gigawatts by 2020.

The China Meteorological Administration says that the country has rich wind power resources, although offshore wind farms remain a tiny portion of China’s total installed wind power capacity. In total, it accounts for up to 750 gigawatts in exploitable wind resources at sea, or three times that of on-shore wind resources.