Offshore Wind Makes Sense for China

One of the thorniest issues that should be addressed at the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen is how large developing nations such as China can continue to grow their economies without producing catastrophic levels of carbon emissions. We believe that a central part of the answer must be renewable energy, and that China should do what it can to encourage renewable energy technology transfer from nations with renewables experience such as Scotland, which continues to build leading-edge capabilities in this increasingly critical area.

As the Saudi Arabia of wind and marine power, with one-quarter of both Europe’s tidal and wind power potential, Scotland is now poised to lead an offshore wind energy revolution that has significant potential to help China achieve its own objectives. 

With the appropriate knowledge transfer, China has the opportunity to provide a “green growth” model to the rest of the developing world. To do so, however, requires a mammoth investment in renewable energy capacity to provide reliable, low-cost green energy on a mass scale to factories and cities. China has already shown a firm commitment to investing in renewable energy, a commitment that was reinforced by this year’s massive stimulus plan.

So far, this effort has been principally focused on hydroelectric, solar and onshore wind power. However, with China’s 9000-mile coastline, there is also considerable potential for offshore wind. While the global offshore wind industry is still at its early stages, we believe that offshore wind can and should be an integral part of China’s renewable energy portfolio. China’s State Meteorological Bureau has made a preliminary estimate of 750 GW for the country’s potential offshore wind energy capacity. Depending on hub heights, this potential could be even higher.

Offshore wind particularly makes sense for the provinces on the Eastern coastal region, from Guangdong to Shandong, which have the highest population densities. They have tremendous offshore wind resources which, in cases such as Guangdong and Fujian, are among the best in China. These cities are also where the bulk of China’s manufacturing capability is to be found.  By developing offshore wind farms close to the coastal regions where electricity demand is highest, China can avoid the headache of having to create a series of long distance transmission lines to bring onshore wind power from the far North and the West of the country, where most onshore wind facilities are based.

Offshore wind does involve high initial investment costs, and this has no doubt been a factor hindering development of China’s offshore capacity. But the long-term advantages of offshore — minimal running costs, longer-lasting turbines, higher and steadier volumes — outweigh the short-term disadvantages.

The role of China’s government to drive forward offshore wind power is crucial. Proper government incentives are needed to overcome the higher investment costs associated with offshore wind. China’s government recognizes this and has taken steps to push forward the commercialization of offshore wind energy. China successfully installed its first offshore wind farm earlier this year, in the East China Sea near Shanghai. It is expected to become operational in May 2010. There are many other proposed projects, based off the coast of Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shandong Provinces.

However, there are large gaps in China’s offshore wind power expertise. While the pace of the market’s growth has been impressive, Chinese firms are still playing catch-up in terms of advanced offshore manufacturing and engineering. To realize China’s full offshore wind potential, technology transfer from developed countries with experience in offshore wind is vital.

As a world leader in offshore wind energy, Scotland is a ready partner for China in developing its offshore capacity. Scottish firms such as SgurrEnergy are already actively involved in providing consultancy services to Chinese firms.  In fact, SgurrEnergy has been appointed by the EU-China Energy & Environment Programme to advise on the potential for China to exploit its offshore wind resource, and it will also work in partnership with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) to assess whether it is economically viable to construct offshore wind farms along a 10,000-kilometre stretch of coastline from Fujian to Shandong.  

Scottish companies SeaEnergy Renewables, one of the only companies in the world with deepwater offshore wind experience, and Crown Estates, focused on the lesser of the U.K.’s deep waters, will be visiting with the Scottish delegation to the China Wind Power 2009 exposition to enhance their growing collaborative relationship with the Chinese government and Chinese wind power manufacturers.  We believe that continued cross-border co-operation such as this will create many opportunities for mutual gain. 

Most Chinese MW-class wind turbine generator (WTG) manufacturers also remain at R&D or prototype stage. Similarly, many local component manufacturers and service providers are not yet fully capable of meeting the sector’s needs. China’s wind farm developers, meanwhile, have limited practical knowledge or experience of offshore wind farms.

There are great opportunities for experienced firms to work with China to build its capabilities in WTG system design and manufacturing, offshore power transmission, offshore wind measurement, wind farm design, installation engineering, access solutions as well as maintenance and services. With larger machines comes the need for better-designed substructures capable of coping with the forces involved in such giant wind turbines. Scotland has led the way in this field and applied such substructures not only to large wind turbines such as REpower’s 5-MW turbines but also in the deepest water yet reached by offshore wind. This is a jacket structure technology from the oil and gas industry, an industry in which Scotland has a long and distinguished heritage, applied to offshore wind. 

Scotland now possesses some 25 percent of Europe’s wind resources and is a recognised world leader in offshore wind. We boast a vast supply base of innovative small and medium size companies who are pivotal in turning emerging technologies into commercial opportunities and securing business gains through technological advantages. Scottish companies are researching a new hydraulic transmission system for turbines, innovative blade manufacturing techniques, operations and maintenance of crane systems and application of various techniques to process gas and oil and operate deep-sea wind power plants.

As well as tapping into the sector’s latest innovations, China also has the chance to learn from the past mistakes of more experienced countries. For example, it will be tempting for China to start building wind farms in tidal flats or very shallow water, but the lessons learned in the UK’s offshore wind market should be heeded and the problems associated with such sites avoided. To build wind farms offshore one needs a proper water depth for full-time access during the construction period and to avoid later problems for operations and maintenance activity.

China’s government has been active in developing the country’s offshore wind capacity. However, there are some restrictions to foreign investment and trade in China’s offshore wind sector that will need to be addressed if China is to fully benefit from the knowledge transfer it requires.  Once those are addressed, we see great potential for collaboration between China and Scotland in renewable energy technology transfer, and are working to support Scottish firms in establishing links with their Chinese counterparts to make the most of these opportunities. We are confident that China’s government will continue to strike the right balance between nurturing the domestic offshore wind industry and allowing foreign firms to play a role in developing China’s offshore wind capacity.

Frank Boyland is Director, Asia for Scottish Development International, a Scottish government organization tasked with promoting international trade for Scottish firms and inward investment to Scotland.  Mr. Boyland is responsible for further enhancing Scotland’s strong trade and investment links with the Asia Pacific region, overseeing operations across SDI’s ten offices in China, Japan, India, Korea, Singapore, and Australia.  Mr. Boyland’s background is in electronic engineering and he has over 22 years experience within the semi-conductor industry, including strategic posts for Chartered Semiconductor in Singapore and National Semiconductor UK in Scotland. Mr. Boyland was educated at James Watt College in Greenock, Scotland where he completed an HNC Electrical & Electronic Engineering as well as an HNC in Marketing, Economics and Advertising.

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