China’s Grid Is So Fragile It Must Turn Off Wind Turbines 15% Of The Time

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Chinese wind turbines are idle 15 percent of the time to avoid damaging the power grid, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

China has greatly slowed its construction of new wind turbines to cope with an oversupply of intermittent and unreliable wind power, which is threatening to cause blackouts.

China is still building a “rosy” new wind turbine every hour, an IEA official told BBC News, despite an over-supply of wind-driven electricity and fears more intermittent energy could damage the power grid.

“The rather rosy statement on wind energy hides the issue that 2015 and the first half of 2016 also saw record new installations of coal,” an unidentified IEA spokesman told BBC News. “China has now a clear over-supply. In the province of Gansu, 39% of wind energy had to be curtailed (turned off because there is not enough capacity on the grid).”

The average European wind farm is forced to curtail only about 2 percent of its electricity annually.

More than one-in-three wind turbines currently installed worldwide are in China. Even with this enormous number of turbines, China still produces less electricity from wind than America, indicating the country is so over-saturated with turbines that it is damaging the power grid, potentially leading to blackouts.

China’s blackout problems aren’t a shock to the green energy industry, as the country is wasting enough wind energy to power Great Britain.

“It is no surprise that the Chinese grid’s capability to integrate this variable renewable energy has not progressed at the same rate, but to change this situation China needs to rapidly progress with electricity market reform,” Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, told BBC News.

The government stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions in early March, according to 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. Government statistics show that 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind-power, or about 15 percent of all Chinese wind power, was wasted in 2015 alone.

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 enormous amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives. Building the infrastructure to transmit wind energy over long distances is enormously expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the electricity.

China invested almost $103 billion in green energy in 2015, making it the world’s largest environmental investor. Approximately 43 percent of these investments specifically target wind power. In comparison, the U.S. spent a “mere” $34 billion on green energy in 2014. The sheer scale of the waste is causing even environmentalist outlets like InsideClimate News to worry.

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.

Wind power damages the power grid because the amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine is very intermittent and doesn’t coincide with the times of day when power is most needed. This poses an enormous safety challenge to grid operators and makes power grids vastly more fragile.

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