China Wind Farm Idling Improves with Better Planning

Fewer of China’s wind turbines are idle after investments in new wind farms slowed and developments shifted to areas with better grid access, aiding operators such as China Longyuan Power Group Corp.

The annual rate of China’s idled wind capacity may fall to 12 percent this year from 17 percent in 2012, Guo Yanheng, the deputy director of the National Renewable Energy Engineering Information Management Center, said in an interview. Ten percent of China’s wind power capacity was sitting unused in the first half of the year, 2 percentage points lower than a year ago, according to the center’s data.

Idled capacity has dogged China’s wind farm operators after a rush to build turbines in the windiest areas of the nation surpassed the grid’s ability to absorb and transmit the power. This year may be the first since 2010 that the rate of idled turbines has declined, according to the renewable energy center’s records.

“The entire industry is a little bit more matured than it was three or four years ago with wind operators actually considering not just wind speed and availability of land, but transmission capacity when they start to build,” Michael Parker, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said by phone on Sept. 3. “There’s opportunity for a much larger portfolio of wind in China.”

The rate of curtailment, the term used to describe when wind farms produce at less than their generation capacity, may decline to the low single-digit level in 2015 as transmission capacity improves, said Parker.

Installations Slow

“That places the Chinese wind sector fully in the same kind of utilization range as the rest of the world,” he said.

The world’s biggest wind market slowed last year for the first time since at least 2004 and may install 13 gigawatts of turbines this year, 6 percent less than in 2012, according to London-based research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China connected 4.8 gigawatts of wind power to grids in the first half, Guo said. The pace of connection may accelerate in the second half, he forecasts.

“The nation is approving projects in more proper areas and withdrew those where grids are unable to meet conditions,” Guo said.

China is investing 500 billion yuan to improve its grid system with plans to build a nationwide network of ultrahigh- voltage transmission lines, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets analysts Charles Yonts and Matthew Li wrote in an Aug. 29 report. Leaving wind farms turned off costs operators at least 10.6 billion yuan ($1.73 billion) in lost revenue, almost double 2011’s figure, according to the renewable energy center.

Earnings Improve

“Curtailment and transmission bottlenecks affect all wind markets around the world,” Justin Wu, Hong Kong-based head of wind analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said by e-mail. “Germany, the U.S., Brazil and India have also had their problems recently” he said.

Earnings at project developers in the first half show that the turnaround is on track, according to Yonts at CLSA.

Huaneng Renewables Corp. and China Datang Corp. Renewable Power Co. said last month that earnings in the six months ended June 30 more than doubled from a year earlier as power generation rose. China Longyuan’s wind-power generation surged 37 percent in August compared with the same month a year ago, the company said on Sept. 6.

China implemented a stricter approval process for new onshore projects to alleviate grid burdens in 2011. In March, the National Energy Administration withheld new wind-park permits from projects in the northern regions of Jilin, Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, where grids are overloaded.

“Our large-scale installation plan in 2030 or 2050 still depends on the northern part, so in the long term we deserve long-distance grid networks from the north to areas that are short of electricity,” Guo said.

Copyright 2013 Bloomberg

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Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock

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