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Nation eyes offshore wind power
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Rich in oil and natural gas, the Bohai Sea may become another type of powerhouse one day - by harnessing the wind.

In November China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) started operation of China's first offshore wind power plant. Installed on the company's Bohai Suizhong 36-1 oil platform 70 km off the coast, the facility has an installed capacity of 1.5 MW.

The plant can generate 4.4 million kWh of electricity a year. It will eliminate 3,500 tons carbon dioxide emissions and 11 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

"The wind there is endless and not too strong," Liu Junshan, spokesman of CNOOC said.

Xinjiang Goldwind, China's leading wind turbine producer, made the equipment for the plant using its patented self-developed technology, says Liu.

Operation of the plant will provide valuable experience for larger projects in the future, but CNOOC is not yet capable of building large-scale commercial offshore wind power plants, says Liu.

"It is just a model project. At present we have not made detailed plans for the offshore wind power business."

"But we will pay more attention to the development of clean energy and renewable energy such as wind power," says Liu.

China has large wind resources, both onshore and offshore. The nation's offshore wind energy potential is around 750 GW, three times the potential on land, Shi Pengfei, vice-chairman of the Chinese Wind Energy Association said.

Like CNOOC, other domestic entities have embarked on offshore wind power projects. The economic hub of Shanghai is building the country's largest offshore wind power plant.

Located north of the Donghai Bridge, the country's first long cross-sea span, the power plant will have an installed capacity of 100 MW. It will be equipped with 34 wind turbines, says Shi.

When operational in 2010, it will be a highlight for the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, he says.

Despite its promise, offshore wind power industry remains in the developmental stage in China. There are many challenges in technology and operations, says Shi.

High cost is the biggest problem. "Construction of an offshore plant costs more than twice that of a plant with the same capacity on land," says Shi.

Also, the complex weather at sea requires much more durable hardware. Strong winds or the changing temperatures can destroy equipment.

Some experts are also concerned about the environmental impact of offshore wind power plants. They say such plants will damage the undersea ecosystem.

"Compared with wind power on land, offshore wind power now still accounts for a small part," says Shi.

The total installed offshore wind power capacity worldwide is around 1 GW, while land units generate 75 GW.

Europe has the most offshore plants in the world, with Denmark, Sweden and the UK leading technological advancement in the field, says Shi.

The future
Despite the challenges, Shi is optimistic about the future of offshore wind power.

"Facing soaring oil prices and more serious environmental and climate change issues, more and more companies have their eyes on wind power, both on land and offshore."

According to statistics from HSBC, wind energy is the most cost-effective energy resource when oil is above $49 a barrel - and it is almost twice that now.

In China, the wind power sector has seen rapid growth in the past few years. By the end of 2006 the total installed capacity in the country was about 2,600 MW. In that year alone, the country added a total of 1,300 MW of wind power capacity.

The output is expected to grow a further 1,000 MW this year, Shi says. Determined to promote sustainable development, China has set a goal of 30,000 MW of wind power capacity by 2020.

Several leading global companies have shown interest in the offshore wind power in China. Vestas and Siemens both said earlier they are considering cooperating with Chinese companies in the field.

Denmark-based Vestas began to provide wind turbines to China in 1986 and has become the largest foreign supplier of wind turbines in the country. Ditlev Engel, president and CEO of the company, earlier said it is a great opportunity for Vestas to plan offshore projects together with Chinese companies.

Last year Siemens acquired the Danish company Bonus to become the world leader in offshore wind energy. The company is in discussions with Chinese enterprises for cooperation, according to Siemens China President and CEO Richard Hausmann.

The German industrial conglomerate is restructuring its portfolio into three sectors - industry, energy and healthcare. The energy sector will comprise power generation, transmission and distribution, says Hausmann.

On November 18, Siemens Medium Voltage Switching Technologies (Wuxi) Ltd celebrated its 10th anniversary. With its fast and steady development over the past decade, the company has played a significant role in China's power industry.

(China Daily, December 10, 2007)

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