The prospects and challenges on Sino-EU Renewable Energy Co-op

By Zhang Min
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, June 20, 2010
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Sino-EU energy cooperation can be traced back in early 1980s. It was in 1994, however, when the first EU-China energy cooperation conference occurred, and became the foundation for long-term cooperation. Recently, the launch of the EU-China Clean Energy Center will be an important platform for further enhancing energy cooperation. Some positive outcomes already have resulted through the EU-China Energy Environment program (EEP). China's offshore wind-energy resources were evaluated, and studies for potential offshore wind-farm construction were also completed. In addition, a wind-technology training program was organized in Shanghai.

These projects and further cooperation are a win-win situation for both partners. China will not only learn cutting-edge technologies in the energy field, but will also learn about institutional organization and frameworks for regulation. Meanwhile, the EU gains greater access to China's energy market.

The EU's competitive advantage in wind power

Globally, the EU leads in the wind turbine industry with both mature onshore and pioneering offshore technologies. Germany, Spain and Denmark lead in term of electricity generation. According to statistics, the EU had eight of the top 10 wind-turbine plants in 2009. The biggest is Denmark's Vestas (35,000 megawatts), followed by Germany's Enercon (19,000 mw), and third is Spain's Gamesa (16,000 mw).

Some European companies are developing superior wind turbines by incorporating carbon fiber blades, galvanized steel masts, and advanced motor and gear designs, which were originally developed for aerospace and defense applications. For example, the German firm Tacke Windtechni has built one of the world's largest wind turbines, capable of generating 1,500 kilowatts (kw). As for offshore wind, currently five EU members have offshore wind parks in operation: Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

Among the EU renewable energy portfolios, wind power capacity leads all other electricity-generating technology. In 2009, 39 percent of all new capacity installed was wind power, followed by gas (25%) and solar photovoltaic (17%). The EU also invests heavily in wind power R&D. In 2009, investment in new European wind farms reached €13 billion, including €1.5 billion offshore. The EU installed 10,163 mw of wind power capacity, a 23-percent increase compared to 2008.

China's great wind-power market

China has a huge market for wind energy production and consumption. The official remarks from a state wind-power development forum recently showed China's installed wind power capacity has quadrupled for four consecutive years, moving China from fourth place in the world in 2008 to third in 2009, and by the end of 2009, there were 423 wind power plants with an aggregate capacity of 22.7 million kw.

China is rich in wind-power resources with proven wind energy reserves of 3.2 billion kw, and the most abundant wind-resource regions are Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang Hami, Gansu Jiuquan, Hebei, Jilin and Jiangsu. However, wind-energy capability is only a negligible part of China's total electricity consumption. In 2009, China's electricity consumption grew 6 percent to 3.6 trillion kilowatt hours. China's total energy consumption is equal to 3 billion tons of standard coal, and fossil fuels account for 91 percent. Of these, coal accounted for 69 percent, oil, 18 percent, natural gas, 3 percent, and non-fossil energy (renewable energy sources consumption) accounts for only 10 percent. Offshore wind energy development is still in its initial stage but will be targeted for investment in the coming years. By 2020, China's installed wind power capacity is expected to reach 150 million kw.

More action needed

There is great potential for deepening EU-China cooperation in wind-power generation. China and the EU complement each other in this field. The EU can transfer advanced, offshore wind power technologies and wind turbine engineering to China, while China will gradually open its market to Europe. The EU-China Clean Energy Center will serve as a platform to develop and strengthen wind energy cooperation. Both partners will take measures and actions to exploit wind power capabilities via Sino-EU energy projects.

The EU will provide insight into emerging technologies for clean energy and play an advisory role on clean-energy issues, while also providing a model for capacity building in terms of regulating the energy market.

China must increase public awareness for consuming non-fossil energy, invest more in R&D and promote innovation. Also, it's important to speed up the regulatory structure, such as, regulating wind-electricity prices based on mutual benefits for producers, distributors and consumers. Last but not least, China should provide subsidies and financial stimulus packages for small to medium-sized private enterprises to encourage them to actively participate in China's wind power market.

The author is dean of the Science and Technology Policy Division of Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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