In March 2013, the National Energy Administration (NEA) of China issued a Notice to urge development of wind-to-heat projects in northern China. This practice aims to reduce the waste of wind power and cut emissions from the coal-fired central heating system. Experiments have been carried out and the approach is going to be scaled up, but further innovations are needed to really shake the dominance of coal.

The niche for large-scale wind-to-heat

Figure 1. China’s installed wind power generation capacity, and average operation hours of the turbines from different sources (click image to enlarge graph).

According to the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA), China’s total installed capacity of wind power jumped to 75.3 gigawatt (GW) by the end of 2012, while the annual installed capacity was 13 GW, nearly 27percent lower than that of 2011 (See Figure 1). This may reflect bottlenecks, such as growing wind curtailment, faced by the industry.

Since 2010, the operating hours of wind turbines have been decreasing (See Figure 1). Combined with growing generation capacity, wind curtailment in 2012 reached 20,000 gigawatt hours(GWh), nearly doubled the curtailed production of 2011.

Jilin Province is a region with one of the highest curtailment rates. Winter nights see high wind speed but low electricity demand, and the local grid’s flexibility for peak electricity management is limited. As a result, wind farms in Jilin Province, which have a total generation capacity of 3.3 GW, were generating for only 1,420 hours in 2012. This was much lower than the industry-adopted economic minimum of 1,900 hours.

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China, coal, curtailed wind, heating, renewable energy, wind power, wind-to-heat

Oil and Gas Development in New Mexico's Permian Basin. Source: Bruce Gordon for SkyTruth.

You wouldn’t know it, but for much of the past week as many as 25,000 people in rural northern New Mexico were without natural gas—a potentially deadly and certainly destructive situation considering the region is also enduring record-breaking low temperatures. Governor Susana Martinez, who was sworn in just weeks ago, declared a state of emergency, sending 300 members of the U.S. National Guard to Taos and Española on Monday to help turn the gas back on.

We wouldn’t know it either, but for the fact that Worldwatch Communication Director Russell Simon’s parents happen to live in Española, a city known mainly to the outside world for its high prevalence of low-riders and crystal meth. Russell’s stepmother Deborah has been sending out regular updates on the situation, which Russell dutifully forwards to the lead researcher on Worldwatch’s Natural Gas and Sustainable Energy Initiative, Saya Kitasei.

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building efficiency, Climate Change, direct use, heating, natural gas, New Mexico, renewable energy, residential sector, solar power