China’s development of offshore wind farms could be set to accelerate, supported by favorable government-backed pricing and increased investment.
“Offshore wind is becoming more and more economically attractive” after the government cut the tariffs for onshore projects, Ma Jinru, vice president of Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., China’s biggest maker of wind turbines, said in an interview.
The renewed focus on offshore wind could see China exceed its target of 5 gigawatts of coastal projects ahead of the government’s 2020 deadline. Given the pace of development, the goal may be reached by the end of next year, said Zhou Yiyi, a Shanghai-based analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
China’s 1.9 gigawatts of total offshore wind capacity at the end of last year may increase by 77 percent in 2017, BNEF’s Zhou estimated. China had originally aimed to achieve the 5-gigawatt goal in 2015.
China isn’t the only market to see an upsurge in interest in coastal wind projects. A plunge in the cost of offshore wind farms is fueling a debate about whether the U.K. government should back that technology or nuclear reactors to ensure cleaner electricity supplies in the next few decades. In the U.S., New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has called on developers to build giant wind farms along the Long Island coast over the next 13 years. Germany’s offshore generation grew 50 percent last year to 12 terawatt-hours in 2016.
“Given improvements in technology, the industry is focusing more in a relative sense on offshore wind power with stronger investment and research and development,” Goldwind’s Ma said.
China in December said it plans to cut the amount of money it pays to newly completed onshore wind mills for their electricity by as much as 15 percent in 2018 from current prices.
Offshore turbines are insignificant when compared to China’s onshore wind capacity of 161 gigawatts. That’s the most worldwide, though it suffers from idle capacity because the grid can’t absorb all the power influx from renewables. China saw the amount of idled wind power more than double in the first nine months of last year.
Offshore wind projects are built in China’s coastal regions where electricity demand is greater. As such, offshore projects have yet to run into the idle capacity issue, said BNEF’s Zhou.
“We see that many local governments are relatively more active on offshore wind” in order to help economic growth, pushing the development of the sector, said Ma.
All the same, the installation target is considered conservative by some.
“The government wants to be cautious,” said Qin Haiyan, secretary general of the Chinese Wind Energy Association, downplaying the significance of the overall number.
The importance of the target is that the government wants to use it “as a means to help solve problems associated with the new technology” and to reduce costs, paving the way for a massive surge in installations after 2020, he said.