Study says wind power could cut China emissions 30 percent

By Henry Sanderson
Associated Press / September 11, 2009

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BEIJING - China could cut its emissions by 30 percent in the next two decades if it switches to wind power to meet about half of its electricity demands, a US study published yesterday said.

China’s energy needs are expected to double by 2030, but the study in the journal Science says that the country could reasonably meet half of those needs with wind.

Using meteorological data to assess the potential for wind power in China - the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide - the researchers also say wind could theoretically supply all of the country’s energy, though it laid out only the figures for meeting half its needs.

“The world is struggling with the question of how do you make the switch from carbon-rich fuels to something carbon-free,’’ lead author Michael McElroy, a professor of environmental studies at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in a statement.

“The real question for the globe is: What alternatives does China have?’’

Coal currently supplies 80 percent of China’s electricity, and hundreds of coal-fired power plants are built every year to keep pace with demand, but Beijing is also investing heavily in renewable energy.

It plans to build seven large wind-power bases over the next decade, and already ranks fourth in the world in terms of installed capacity, at 12.2 billion watts - about equal to the energy produced by two dozen average-sized coal-fired plants.

It trails only the United States, Germany, and Spain in installed capacity, but not all of those turbines are hooked up to the electricity grid.

In fact, just 0.4 percent of China’s electricity is currently supplied by wind - or around 3 billion watts.

Justin Wu, a wind analyst at New Energy Finance, a London-based industry-research firm, said the gap between installed capacity and wind-generated power is more than just a footnote. Connecting the wind farms to national electric grids is very difficult and expensive, he said, because the on-and-off blowing stresses the grids.

He said the study does not take into account that to overcome this difficulty, power grids would need costly upgrades.

The innovation is only likely to be undertaken by power companies if they’re offered big incentives to offset the costs.