China Makes Huge Breakthrough in Wind Power Technology

Chinese developers unveiled the world’s first full-permanent magnetic levitation (Maglev) wind power generator at the Wind Power Asia Exhibition 2006 held June 28 in Beijing, according to Xinhua News.

Regarded as a key breakthrough in the evolution of global wind power technology-and a notable advance in independent intellectual property rights in China — the generator was jointly developed by Guangzhou Energy Research Institute under China’s Academy of Sciences and by Guangzhou Zhongke Hengyuan Energy Science & Technology Co., Ltd. The Maglev generator is expected to boost wind energy generating capacity by as much as 20 percent over traditional wind turbines. This would effectively cut the operational expenses of wind farms by up to half, keeping the overall cost of wind power under 0.4 yuan ($US 5 cents), according to Guokun Li, the chief scientific developer of the new technology. Further, the Maglev is able to utilize winds with starting speeds as low as 1.5 meters per second (m/s), and cut-in speeds of 3 m/s, the chief of Zhongke Energy was quoted as saying at the exhibition. When compared with the operational hours of existing wind turbines, the new technology will add an additional 1,000 hours of operation annually to wind power plants in areas with an average wind speed of 3 m/s. Xinhua News reports that more than 70 million households in China lack access to electricity, with most of them living in areas unconnected to power grids. The widely scattered nature of rural localities makes it difficult to supply grid-based power to these areas. The use of the full-permanent Maglav generator could potentially fill the power void in these locations by harnessing low-speed wind resources that were previously untappable. With an increasing number of Chinese and international investors joining the global booming wind power market, the technology is expected to create new opportunities in low-wind-speed areas worldwide such as mountain regions, islands, observatories, and television transfer stations. In addition, the Maglev generator will be able to provide roadside lighting along highways by utilizing the airflow generated from vehicles passing by, said Xinhua News. The global wind power market has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with Germany, Spain, and the United States ranking as the top producers in 2005. The output of wind turbines is increasing rapidly thanks to the world’s ramped-up wind power capacity. Global sales of wind power equipment reached $10 billion in 2004 and are estimated to reach $49 billion per year by 2012, reports Worldwatch researcher Janet Sawin in Vital Signs 2005. China Watch columns, a joint initiative of the Worldwatch Institute and Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute, report on energy, agriculture, population, water, health, and the environment in China — with an emphasis on analysis relevant to policy makers, the business community, and non-governmental organizations.
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