Research published Wednesday by a Harvard professor found Chinese wind and solar power are facing serious problems and are massively wasteful.
In 2015 alone, China wasted about 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind power, or about 15 percent of all the wind power generated in the country, according to the research.
“China is building its wind capacity so rapidly that it’s not connecting turbines to the grid,” Dr. Michael B. McElroy, a Harvard University professor who co-authored the research with several Chinese scientists, wrote in a press statement. “So, you have wind farms that are being developed but they’re just sitting for years before they’re connected.”
Power grids require that demand for electricity exactly match supply in order to function. This is an enormous problem for wind and solar power, since their output cannot be accurately predicted in advance, or easily adjusted. Wind and solar can burn out the grid if they waste too much electricity, leading to brownouts or blackouts. Such damage has already occurred in Germany, California and other electric grids that rely too much on solar and wind power.
This issue is so serious that the Chinese government stopped building new wind turbines because most of the new electricity created was wasted.
The government stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions in March, according to a China’s National Energy Administration statement. These regions previously installed nearly 71 gigawatts of wind turbines, more than the rest of China combined. A single gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes.
Beijing has ordered wind operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years because unreliable wind power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government large amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives, and building the infrastructure to transmit wind energy over long distances is so expensive it could cost many times the price of generating the electricity.
China spent more than $80 billion building new green energy in 2014 alone, while the U.S. spent a “mere” $34 billion. Despite the freeze on new wind farms, the Chinese government still plans to get 15 percent of the country’s electricity from green energy by 2020.
The amount of new energy China plans on getting from wind and solar power pales in comparison to the amount of electricity the country plans to get from coal. Of the 2,400 coal-fired power plants under construction or being planned around the world, 1,171 will be built in China. This rapid growth of coal power overseas means that, mathematically, Chinese CO2 emissions are unlikely to stop rising.
Consumption of coal in China has already grown by a factor of 3 from 2000 to 2013. The country consumes approximately half of all coal used worldwide and gets roughly 66 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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