China's Wind Power Boom?
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China's Wind Power Boom?

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China is seeking to challenge General Electric and other Western firms in the wind turbine market, a move backed by more than $15 billion in government support.

Already the country with the highest wind power installed capacity, Chinese windmill makers such as Sinovel Wind Group and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology are planning to set up plants overseas, including in the United States, Bloomberg notes today.

‘China has become the single largest driver for global wind power development. In 2010, every second wind turbine that was added anywhere in the world was installed in China,’ according to Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council.

According to the Council, China’s wind turbines market ‘doubled every year between 2005 and 2009 in terms of total installed capacity, and it has been the world’s largest annual market since 2009.’ Last year, China added 18.9 GW of new wind energy capacity, meaning its total wind power installed capacity jumped to 44.7 GW, more than the United States.

Such growth raises a tantalizing prospect – could wind power become competitive with fossil fuels? Bloomberg suggests it could.

‘A shift to Chinese suppliers could even nudge down the cost of wind power enough for it to compete with coal and natural gas in the US and Europe when the wind is blowing, threatening fossil fuel-based business models at utilities,’ it notes.

‘While US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao both said developing clean energy is a top industrial priority, China is increasingly gaining the manufacturing base for equipment needed to wean their economies from fossil fuels.’

The news comes ahead of China Wind Power 2011, a major conference taking place next week in the country that will consider both China’s and Brazil’s prospects in renewable energies, especially wind power.

While China has to regularly face the ignominy of seeing its cities ranked among the world’s most polluted, Beijing has been stung by criticism that it’s sacrificing the environment for the sake of economic growth. Indeed, last year, China invested some $54.4 billion in clean energy, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, far ahead of second-placed Germany ($41.2 billion) and the United States with $34 billion.

‘Countries like China, Germany, Italy and India were attractive to financers because they have national policies that support renewable energy standards, carbon reduction targets and/or incentives for investment and production and that create long-term certainty for investors,’ noted the report, released in March. ‘However, there is ambiguity surrounding clean energy policies in the United States and the United Kingdom, which likely has caused investors to look elsewhere for opportunities.’

Still, as a report in the Financial Times noted today, concerns persist over the safety of China’s wind turbines following a crane collapse this week that saw five people killed.

‘Cranes collapse all the time in China and in other countries. But the recent accident fits into a series of mishaps in China that have renewed concerns about safety and quality standards in the turbine industry,’ the FT notes. ‘Chinese wind farms have also struggled with grid failures, causing large-scale blackouts at least twice this year.’

Still, compared with the problems that blight the country’s coal industry, wind power remains a relatively safe and increasingly attractive option.

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