The Chinese government has halted the expansion of wind power in its northern provinces where a large number of turbines are churning out power that’s being wasted. The move underscores the challenges facing China as it works to fulfill its clean energy ambitions.
Chinese regulators said the windswept regions of Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang will suspend the approval of new wind projects in 2016, according to a March 17 statement published on the website of China’s National Energy Administration. The six regions have installed nearly 71 gigawatts of turbines, more than the rest of China combined. It’s at least the fourth time in five years that Beijing has ordered wind operators there to slow down growth.
The decision highlights a growing concern among energy analysts that China’s spectacular growth in renewable energy is bumping up against the reality of grid constraints and shrinking electricity demand. Solar panels and wind turbines were virtually nonexistent in China a decade ago, and now the country leads the world in installing both.
Wind power installations, in particular, have exploded over the last five years as part of the country’s ambitious push to combat climate change and bring down dangerous levels of air pollution from its massive coal consumption. Already the world’s wind energy giant, China installed an additional 33 gigawatts of wind turbines in 2015, more than half of new installations worldwide, as developers rushed to build as many projects as possible to meet a year-end deadline for subsidies.
But too much of that energy is being squandered. In 2015 alone, 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind-powered electricity was wasted, government statistics show—equivalent to the electricity consumed by 3 million American households a year. That was about 15 percent of China’s total wind power generation, up from 8 percent a year earlier.
Some of the wind-generated electricity had no place to go because there’s no transmission infrastructure to carry the power to population centers. In other cases, developers couldn’t compete with coal for contracts to connect to the grid.