China wind potential

Harvard and Tsinghua University researchers claim that wind alone has the potential to meet China’s expected electricity demands in 2030.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers used meteorological data from the Goddard Earth Observing Data Assimilation System (GEOS) at NASA, and assumed the wind energy would be produced from a set of land-based 1.5MW turbines operating in rural areas.

The analysis indicated that a network of wind turbines operating at as little as 20 per cent of their rated capacity could provide potentially as much as 24.7 petawatt-hours of electricity annually, or more than seven times China’s current consumption.

The wind farms would only need to take up land areas of 0.5m square kilometres, or regions about three-quarters of the size of Texas.

By contrast, to meet the increased demand for electricity during the next 20 years using fossil-fuel-based energy sources, China would have to construct coal-fired power plants that could produce the equivalent of 800GW of electricity, resulting in a potential increase of 3.5 gigatons of CO2 per year.

Moving to a low-carbon energy future would mean that China would need to make an investment of around $900bn (£539bn) over a 20-year period. The scientists consider this a large but not unreasonable investment given the present size of the Chinese economy. Moreover, whatever the energy source, the country will need to build and support an expanded energy grid to accommodate the anticipated growth in power demand.

Michael B McElroy, Gilbert Butler professor of environmental studies at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) who led the researchers that wrote the analysis, said: ‘China is bringing on several coal-fired power plants a week. By publicising the opportunity for a different way to go we will hope to have a positive influence.’