The Chinese government isn’t building any new wind turbines because most of the new electricity created was wasted, causing serious damage to the country’s electrical grid.
The government stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions earlier this month, according to a China’s National Energy Administration statement. These regions previously installed nearly 71 gigawatts of wind turbines, more than the rest of China combined. A single gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes. Government statistics show that 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind-power, or about 15 percent of all Chinese wind power, was wasted in 2015 alone.
“Even though China will not approve new projects, the scale of existing wind power installations is huge, leaving the grid struggling to cope with it,” Xie Guohui, an analyst at a Chinese think tank, told the environmental blog InsideClimate News Monday. “In the best-case scenario, this policy will help China’s wind power curtailment maintain the same level as it was last year.”
The amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine is very intermittent and doesn’t coincide with the times of day when power is most needed. This poses an enormous safety challenge to grid operators and makes power grids vastly more fragile.
“China is not the only country that has built so much wind capacity that their electric grid can’t handle the wild fluctuations in output, and it won’t be the last,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The United States should learn from these incredibly expensive mistakes. Instead, Obama’s EPA plows ahead with regulations that will duplicate the worst outcomes—skyrocketing electric prices together with unpredictable interruptions in supply.”
In America, merely building a 3,000-mile network of transmission lines capable of moving power from wind-rich West Texas to market in East Texas was a $6.8 billion effort that began in 2008 and still isn’t entirely finished. Demand for electricity in China has grown much slower than expected due to the country’s general economic slowdown.
Beijing has ordered wind operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years because unreliable wind power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government enormous amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives, and building the infrastructure to transmit wind energy over long distances is enormously expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the electricity.
“We’ve known for a long time that levelized cost comparisons understate the cost of wind and solar because such estimates don’t take into account the cost of building new transmission from remote wind-rich generation sites to population centers,” Marlo Lewis, an analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But now we find another cost should be included when new transmission lines aren’t built: the wasted power that can’t be delivered.”
China has spent enormous amounts of money on the country’s wind industry. China spent more than $80 billion building new green energy in 2014 alone, while the US spent a “mere” $34 billion. Despite the freeze on new wind-farms, the Chinese government still plans to get 15 percent of the country’s electricity from green energy by 2020.
“Gigantic misallocations of capital have been endemic in all aspects of China’s economic buildup. Look at the brand new cities that are empty,” Ebell continued. “Now that China’s boom has cooled down and they don’t have as many trillions of dollars of spare cash, they are not going to be able to invest in everything, but will have to make choices based on profit and loss. Wind and solar power are obviously two of the sectors where investment will be scaled down dramatically.”