Ambitious Plans and Equally Great Challenges: An Overview of China’s Offshore Wind Power Development

by Qiong Xie

China’s offshore wind industry is gaining momentum and entering the large-scale development phase. China’s National Energy Bureau plans to boost the country’s offshore wind capacity to 5 gigawatts (GW) by 2015. And by 2020, according to the Chinese government’s Renewable Energy Plan of the 12th Five-Year Plan, China endeavors to further increase its offshore wind power capacity to 30 GW. Given the fact that China had only installed 142.5 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind turbines as of June 2011, reaching 5 GW in five years requires a big jump both for policymakers and companies.  Meeting these ambitious targets will require a vigorous renewable energy action plan and substantial financial investments. Offshore wind turbine technologies at various depths

There are several reasons why China has turned its attention to offshore wind power. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011, China overtook the US in 2010 to become the world’s top energy consumer with a 20.3 percent share of global energy consumption. China also surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2006. In order to secure a sustainable energy supply, China is pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Currently, coal generation accounts for 80 percent of China’s electricity production, much of which comes from old and inefficient plants that contribute to severe air pollution and other health and environment impacts. China has recognized the economic and environmental need to adopt renewable energy such as offshore-wind to generate electricity. At the end of 2008, clean energy including hydro, wind, solar, biomass, biogas, geothermal and ethanol contributed 9 percent of China’s total primary energy use. In 2009, total installed wind power capacity in China reached 26 GW.

China’s offshore wind energy is mainly distributed along its eastern coastline, where over 40 percent of the country’s population is concentrated. Leaders of coastal provinces see offshore wind development as a means of increasing local employment and securing energy supply. China expanded its installed offshore wind capacity from 63 MW in 2009 to 142.5 MW in 2011, with an average annual growth rate of 63.09 percent for that period.  The Chinese offshore wind industry marked a turning point in 2010, transitioning from research and pilot projects to commercialized operation. The first stage of construction of the East Sea Bridge Offshore Wind Farm – China’s first large-scale offshore wind farm located in Shanghai – was completed in June 2010 and successfully connected to the grid and mainland Shanghai by a submarine cable in July 2010. It has a total installed capacity of 102 MW and estimated average annual power output of 268 gigawatt-hours (GWh), enough to power about 200,000 Shanghai households.

The following table showcases the current progress of China’s offshore wind farms. In addition, the National Energy Administration (NEA) completed the public tender in 2010 for 1 GW of offshore concession projects in Jiangsu Province. Four offshore wind farms were announced under this public tender – two 300 MW offshore wind farms installed near shore and two 200 MW farms to be built on tidal flats. Major players in the Chinese wind energy industry including Sinovel, Goldwind and Shanghai Electric, have won the concession bidding and started their construction in Jiangsu Province. NEA will launch the second public bidding in the second half of 2011, which should be completed by the first half of 2012. Total planned capacity for the second bidding phase will range from 1.5 to 2 GW.

Figure 1: China’s Offshore Wind Farms

Name Status Province/City Capacity (MW) Completion year
Bohai Suizhong In operation 1.5 2007 November
Shanghai’s East Sea Bridge First stage in operation Shanghai 102 2010
Nan’ao Approved in early 2004 Guangdong 20 Expected 2011
Hebei Planned 50 Expected 2011
Qingdao Planned Shandong 25 Expected 2011
Dongshan Island Planned 20 Expected 2011


While the average size of offshore wind turbines in Europe is about 3.2 MW, Chinese companies are planning larger units. For instance, Xiangtan Electric Machinery (XEMC), a company headquartered in Xiangtan, Hunan Province, tested its 5 MW offshore prototype in the Netherlands in June 2011. Additionally, Sinovel announced its 6 MW offshore prototype in May 2011. Goldwind and Guodian United Power have also set out their plan for 6 MW offshore prototypes, and are estimated to launch a 6 MW prototype in early 2012.

Despite recent rapid expansion, Qin Haiyan, secretary general of the China Wind Energy Association, has noted that China’s offshore wind industry is still in an early stage and faces several barriers to development. The most prominent challenges are technological and financial difficulties associated with operating offshore. According to a 2006 report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), most current offshore wind projects around the world are located in shallow waters (0 to100 feet), so most turbines can be built directly on the sea floor. As turbines are installed farther from shore and in deeper waters, more advanced technologies are needed and construction costs increase exponentially due to greater engineering complexities.

According to a 2009 wind report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), installation of offshore turbines is highly constrained by weather conditions. Unfavorable weather such as typhoons can cause the construction delays. Moreover, the greater weight of offshore wind turbines adds more technological challenges and significant costs to installation.  For instance, the construction of a lifeboat, which is used to install offshore wind turbine, costs $150 million. IEA estimates that the overall investment cost for offshore wind farms is double that of onshore wind turbines.

Existing deep sea technologies used in offshore oil and gas drilling can be transferred to the offshore wind industry to address some of these issues.  MIT has already designed floating offshore wind turbines, using deep-sea oil rigs for inspiration. There is huge potential for improvement in offshore wind development using these and other advanced technologies.

Chinese offshore wind turbine manufacturing companies are eager to become top competitors in the global market, with the hope of securing intellectual property rights, especially for core technologies such as electrical control systems. Currently even Chinese companies with strong research and development (R&D) capacities, like Sinovel Wind Group Co., Ltd, still rely heavily on foreign companies for core technologies. As one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers, Sinovel has independently designed and manufactured large-scale onshore, offshore and intertidal wind turbines, but it still depends on supply partnerships with foreign companies for specific technologies. For instance, to develop suitable turbines for the East Sea Bridge Offshore Wind Farm, Sinovel had to buy key components, including electrical control systems, power converters, and yaw converters, from the American Superconductor® (AMSC®).

With increasing competition at home and abroad, China’s wind industry is seeking to improve its supply chain of offshore wind turbines and reduce the installation costs in the near future. Advanced technology and reduced costs will help China meet its ambitious offshore wind capacity targets and strengthen its position as a global leader in renewable energy development.

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