Wind is China’s fastest growing renewable energy resource. In 2012, 13 gigawatts (GW) were added to the system, and incremental wind electricity production exceeded coal growth for the first time ever. In the same year, unused wind electricity hit record highs while wind not connected to the grid was roughly half the size of Germany’s fleet. China’s is perhaps the largest yet most inefficient wind power system in the world.
As a variable, diffuse and spatially segregated energy resource, wind has a number of disadvantages compared to centralized fossil stations. These unavoidable limitations are not unique to China, though they are magnified by its geography. In addition, as I outlined in a previous post, coal has uniquely shaped China’s power sector development and operation; these also play a role in limiting wind’s utilization. Eyeing ambitious 2020 renewable energy targets and beyond, policy-makers and grid operators are confronting a vexing decision: continue the status quo of rapidly expanding wind deployment while swallowing diminished capacity factors, or focus more on greater integration through targeted reforms.